Ed Wytkind on the Huffington Post: Electing to Support Our Economy

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This election cycle, Americans have a decision to make. Either we can choose to elect those who have proven themselves to have the courage and the foresight to make decisions with the long-term benefit of working people in mind, or we can elect those who are too shortsighted and too captive to special interests to make the calls that will help our nation thrive.

Too many candidates trying to win seats in this election think the answer to improving the U.S. economy is to retrench into partisan positions that at best do nothing, and at worst undermine job creation, permit our infrastructure to fall apart and strip workers of their rights to form and join unions and bargain for fair wages.

It’s up to Americans to show Congress that partisan retrenchment is not the answer. Our bridges are falling down, our roads are crumbling, our transit and rail systems can’t meet their growing demand, our aviation system is using decades-old technology and our ports suffer from chronic under-investment. We need a Congress that will work together to make our infrastructure work for the next generation and beyond, not squabble over short-term funding bills. We need a Congress that will fight to ensure that more Americans have access to good, safe, middle-class jobs. And we need a Congress that doesn’t shy away from telling the truth to the American people that without a fully-funded long-term plan (and yes, that might mean raising the federal gas tax) to invest in our transportation system, our economy will crumble.

But that Congress is in jeopardy.

Read the rest on The Huffington Post.

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Investing in Infrastructure to Put America to Work

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It’s no secret that we’re underinvesting in our transportation infrastructure. It’s been years since Congress passed a long-term surface transportation funding bill, our aviation system relies on outdated technology, and the last rail funding authorization expired more than a year ago. Across all modes of transportation and across the entire nation, we’ve underinvested to such an extent that we’re stifling growth and the system’s capacity. And as demonstrated by a new report from the Duke Center for Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness and the Alliance for American Manufacturing, in the process we’re undeniably injuring the American economy.

First and foremost, the report shows that each time we fail to invest in the long-term needs of our transportation infrastructure, we’re keeping Americans out of work. According to the report, “Expanding federal funding consistent with U.S. DOT’s request … ($114.2 billion per year) would result in over 2.47 million jobs, or 58% more jobs than current funding levels, and over $404 billion in total economic impact.” On that basis alone, transportation investment should be a no-brainer.

The report also explains how adequate investment will ensure that the U.S. remains a global economic power. When we fail to invest in our infrastructure, the report explains, we diminish “the competitiveness of U.S. businesses” by reducing their ability to efficiently move goods to market relative to our economic competitors. It’s crucial that we invest in such a way that the returns benefit local economies: programs like Buy America deliver “economic benefits to the U.S. economy” and “mitigate the safety risks of using potentially inferior-quality foreign inputs.” When projects avoid Buy America coverage, the funds invested in them “leak away” from domestic manufacturers and construction companies; in the case of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, that leakage represented 27% of total funds. That’s $1.75 billion that could have been reinvested in the American economy, creating jobs and supporting local businesses.

As the Duke/AAM report shows, the return on our investment is clearly in our favor: every dollar invested in transportation infrastructure returns $3.54 in economic impact. That’s a return we can’t afford to pass up. Read the report here.

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Jobs to Move America in Al-Jazeera America: Putting Our Transit Dollars to Work

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Each year, public transportation agencies spend $5.4 billion on buses and trains. That represents an enormous investment of our taxpayer dollars, but in the absence of common-sense procurement reforms much of it ends up going to companies that manufacture components abroad.

Together with the Jobs to Move America coalition, TTD has been working to change that. As TTD President Ed Wytkind puts it, “We reward bad employers who don’t pay living wages, who outsource most of their work overseas, who do not provide decent benefits, worker training. This is an opportunity to finally see procurement reward good employers. … This is a no-brainer.”

So far, we’re seeing steady progress: we’ve convinced Amtrak, L.A. Metro, and the Chicago Transit Authority that our transit dollars should be invested to build transportation manufacturing capacity and jobs here at home. A recent article in Al-Jazeera America has the details.

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Ed Wytkind on the Huffington Post: So Now Replacing 100-Year Old Tunnels Is a Liberal Boondoggle?

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On October 2nd, Amtrak reported that four of its century-old underwater rail tunnels in and out of New York City are in need of extensive repairs and that service will be “badly curtailed” — terrible news for both daily commuters and passengers who take 260 million trips a year along the vital Northeast Corridor. While some may see this as a local issue, this transportation crisis could cripple a region that produces 20 percent of our GDP. More importantly, how elected leaders respond will say a lot about whether we have the will to fix highways and bridges, provide transit service, build runways and modernize seaports in communities across the country.

So far we have a mixed bag. Four years ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cancelled the already-funded and underway Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) program, which would have built an additional rail tunnel under the Hudson River. At the time, the case for this transportation lifeline was clear: capacity of the existing tunnels was near 100 percent and delays were already rampant. With the new tunnel, train service would have doubled, generating 32,500 new trips daily. And given that the existing tunnels were built 100 years ago — things do have a tendency to break down and fixing tunnels that are underwater while they are being used is, well, a little tricky.

Then Superstorm Sandy came and flooded both tubes under the Hudson and two of the four tubes under the East River. Repairs can be made to the East River tunnel, with terrible delays, by shutting down one tube at a time. Under the Hudson, where the tunnel that Governor Christie killed would have been, that option is simply not available.

Read the rest of TTD President Ed Wytkind’s article on The Huffington Post.

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Launching a New Era in Job Creation

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Did you miss TTD’s president, Ed Wytkind, on the Rick Smith Show last week? If so, never fear: we’ve got the interview here on our blog.

Tune in to hear Ed discuss where the billions of dollars we spend replacing our aging railcars and buses ends up, and how TTD, along with the Jobs to Move America coalition, is making sure those public funds are used to maximize U.S. transportation manufacturing job creation. Because if we’re spending $5-6 billion per year replacing railcars and other rolling stock, Ed points out, “Why not do it in a way that maximizes U.S. job creation? Why not reward high-road employers? And why not make the bidding process – the way in which we procure those purchases – reward those companies that give living wages, have good benefits, have pensions and retirement systems, and have real worker training?”

Listen to the show to find out how we’re making it happen.

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Congress Puts Rail Safety on the Agenda

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TTD’s rail safety agenda got a boost last week when Senator Richard Blumenthal, along with three other Senators, included several reforms that rail labor has long championed in their Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2014. Some 130,000 miles of freight rail tracks crisscross the United States, driving the economy, supporting more than 175,000 employees, and carrying crucial cargo that often includes hazardous materials. It is essential that we insist on the highest level of safety to protect workers, passengers, and communities that have trains pass by on a daily basis.

The Blumenthal bill gets it right when it mandates that all freight railroads must be operated by at least two qualified employees. Modern freight trains are large, complex vehicles that routinely carry hazardous materials throughout the United States, and it is simply ridiculous, and incredibly unsafe, to charge a single person with the responsibility of operating a train. Not surprisingly, opinion polls consistently show that the public supports the mandated use of two-person crews. The Federal Railroad Administration has announced its intention to issue a rule on two-person crew requirements, a pending House bill on the issue has 82 cosponsors, and now Senator Blumenthal and his colleagues have lent their support to this effort. Good news all around.

This bill also calls for added protections to ensure that that signal employees and other track workers are not injured or killed by moving trains. Specifically, the bill requires that back-up technology is implemented to alert train crews when signal work and other maintenance is being done on tracks. Further, the bill requires that alerters be positioned in the locomotive cab to help ensure that operating crews are responsive and can stop the train in case of an emergency. Alerters have already been installed in many trains, but this bill closes a loophole that has allowed older cars, especially on commuter rails, to go without them.

We are disappointed that the bill requires the installation of audio and video recording devices in locomotive cabs. We look forward to working with Senator Blumenthal to modify the bill on this point and to make other improvements that will enhance safety.

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Meet the Koch Sisters

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You know the Koch brothers: anti-union big-businessmen bent on increasing their own net worth at the expense of working Americans and using their money to influence American elections.

But do you know the Koch sisters, Joyce and Karen?

No? Maybe that’s because unlike their counterparts, Joyce and Karen haven’t spent billions of dollars buying elections and undermining workers’ rights to fair compensation and working conditions. Instead, they’ve spent their lives striving to ensure that their children and grandchildren have the same opportunities they’ve had. An educator and a retired social worker, respectively, Joyce and Karen both come from union families, and they both know what it’s like to have to fight for a decent wage.

Together with the AFL-CIO, Karen and Joyce are standing up to reaffirm that their voices—and the voices of countless Americans—are as important as the special interests that are determined to use their wealth to influence politics and policy.

TTD stands with them, and we invite you to join us. You can be a Koch sister, too – and show American politicians that ordinary Americans everywhere deserve a voice.

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U.S. DOT Keeps Norwegian Air International Grounded

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Last week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) made a pivotal decision and dismissed a request by Norwegian Air International (NAI) for an exemption that would have allowed it to begin trans-Atlantic service to the United States while a request for a foreign air carrier permit was still pending at DOT. The decision comes on the heels of a months-long effort by the labor movement in the U.S. and Europe, members of Congress from both side of the aisle, and major American and European airlines to point out just how damaging NAI’s business plan would be. TTD’s president, Ed Wytkind, lauded the DOT’s decision as both “sound” and reflective of “the overwhelming body of evidence against NAI’s proposed rogue operation.”

Readers of MoveAmerica know the story by now: NAI is a Norwegian air carrier, but the company plans to base in Ireland – despite having no intention of flying into or out of Ireland – and its employees will be based in Bangkok and hired through a Singaporean agency. The NAI spin is that moving to Ireland is necessary to gain legal rights to fly to the U.S. Not true. While Norway isn’t a member of the EU, it is a signatory of the 2010 U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement and therefore has rights to establish trans-Atlantic service under that agreement. Instead, this plan is all about forum-shopping for the cheapest labor deal and by doing so NAI is violating the very agreement that allows it to fly to the U.S. Article 17 bis of the Agreement specifically says the rights afforded in the agreement cannot be used to lower labor standards – but that is exactly what NAI is doing here. So NAI needs the Open Skies agreement to gain expanded access to the U.S. market, but only wants it to apply when it’s convenient.

In dismissing NAI’s request for an exemption, DOT noted that this case was “novel” and “complex” and that granting the request would not be “appropriate or in the public interest.” The same logic should stand for NAI’s request for a permanent foreign air carrier permit: the DOT must shut the door on an airline operating scheme that at its core is about violating our public interest laws and doing an end around the explicit employee protections embodied in the U.S.-EU aviation trade pact. The employee protections in the Open Skies agreement were added during the second stage of negotiations in 2010 in recognition that while opening aviation markets is an important priority for the economy, it must not come at the expense of middle class airline jobs.

By denying NAI’s request for exemption last week, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made the correct decision. We commend his action and now urge the Administration to keep NAI’s scheme from taking off.

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NAI Delivers a Timeout in Washington from Partisan Rancor

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In this time of extreme partisan fighting, there’s not much in Washington on which politicians agree. Enter Norwegian Air International, or NAI. This airline’s plan to launch new trans-Atlantic service into the U.S. has become a galvanizing issue in Washington for politicians across the political spectrum who recognize a scam that will harm our economy when they see one.

NAI’s bid for approval from our government to begin its new service has landed in Washington, sort of like that proverbial lead balloon. Its plan? It will register its airline in Ireland – but it won’t actually fly in and out of there. It will hire flight crews not in Norway, but in Thailand and employed on individual employment contracts with a Singaporean hiring agency. Why would a Norwegian airline do such a thing? It’s simple. To avoid strong Norwegian labor and social laws and to evade the airline’s existing collective bargaining relationships with its own employees.

The good news is that the groundswell of opposition to the NAI scheme continued to build yesterday when the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) solicited comments on its August 4, 2014 Notice regarding the applicability of Article 17 bis, an employee protection provision embodied in the U.S.-European Union (EU) Open Skies agreement, which sets out rules on how air carriers on both sides of the Atlantic, such as NAI, can engage in new trans-Atlantic air service. You see, nothing in the agreement says that a European airline can forum-shop for cheap labor around the globe and then apply to provide new service into the U.S. as if it is a European air carrier. I have to wonder if NAI has a secret appendix to the U.S.-EU agreement permitting it to game the accord that no one else has seen.

So, back to yesterday’s flurry of filings into the DOT proceeding.

TTD was joined by several of our member unions, including the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Transport Workers Union of America, and the Air Line Pilots Association, to condemn the NAI application awaiting a decision from the DOT. Our labor partners overseas – the European Cockpit Association and the European Transport Workers’ Federation, both based in Europe – joined us in a massive demonstration of unity. Representatives Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) also each filed comments asking DOT to deny NAI’s application. And numerous major airlines in the U.S. and Europe – including United, Delta, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), American, Air France, Austrian Airlines, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines – filed comments with the same message: #denyNAI.

Even the European Commission is under siege for its early support from NAI’s scheme: one set of comments to the DOT cites that several of the Member States of the European Parliament have agreed “that the business model proposed by Norwegian Air International is questionable,” and explains that questions Members have posted to the Commission on NAI’s business model “have been answered only partly and superficially.” Even many Europeans are wholly unconvinced that NAI’s scheme should be permitted.

This array of voices sends a clear message to DOT and the Obama Administration: granting NAI an exemption and foreign air carrier permit would be a mistake for the U.S. economy and airline industry and for American aviation workers who grow weary of government policies and decisions that encourage the low-road business model NAI is peddling.

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FMCSA to Put the Brakes on Driver Coercion

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We tend to assume it’s a given that no one should be made to break the law – it’s one of the tenets we rest on as a society. So it would be ridiculous to have to put additional laws in place that say employers can’t force their employees to break or ignore rules and regulations.

And yet experience shows we need to.

These sorts of laws are especially important for workers like bus and truck drivers, who too often are coerced into operating unsafe vehicles, exceeding hours of service limitations, or committing other unlawful acts, all in the name of profit. Asked by employers to meet demands to complete trips within certain timeframes or to show passengers around a destination after arrival, drivers frequently must choose between acquiescing in order to preserve their jobs, and refusing with the risk of losing hours or even employment altogether.

This sort of Catch-22 puts drivers’ well-being at risk: if drivers violate safety regulations in order to preserve their livelihoods, they are putting themselves in the very situations those regulations are designed to prevent. And in turn, those violations make the vehicles they operate and the roads they drive on less safe for passengers and other drivers.

Fortunately, Congress and federal regulators have stepped in to help solve this problem. Recognizing that the economics of the motor carrier industry sometimes result in drivers being coerced by their employers to break the law, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a proposed rule that prohibits such coercion. This rule would provide drivers with clear protection against threats of losing work or their jobs if they object to operating a bus or truck under circumstances which their employer knows – or ought to know – would cause them to violate federal regulations. TTD has submitted comments in support of this rule, and is pleased that FMCSA recognizes how crucial and pressing an issue this is.

TTD and our member unions have long fought to improve the safety of buses and trucks, and of the drivers that make intercity travel possible. We believe that workers who have the courage to speak up in order to keep themselves and others safe should be commended, not punished.

Because which road would you rather be on: one on which all the drivers can take the necessary actions to ensure their safety, or one on which drivers have had to neglect regulations and sleep in order to keep their jobs? We at TTD know our answer, and we applaud FMCSA for knowing it too.

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