Sitting in an airplane, taxiing from gate to runway, the last thing you want to think about is the safety and oversight of the repair work performed on your aircraft. And you wouldn’t have to if the thousands of mechanics and inspectors who work to keep our passenger aircraft flying safely had their way.
Represented by our member unions, the Transport Workers Union, the International Association of Machinists and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (inspectors), these dedicated professionals have been advocating with us for years for better safety and security regulations of aircraft repair work that is contracted out.
Now a new report is calling attention, once again, to shortcomings in our government’s system for overseeing the repair and maintenance of U.S. aircraft. It declares: the Federal Aviation Administration “does not have an effective oversight process for foreign and domestic repair stations.”
Here’s a bit of background:
The Reagan Administration weakened rules more than 20 years ago opening the floodgates to outsourcing with little or no safety oversight. Today, hundreds of FAA-certified facilities dot the globe thanks to explosive growth in outsourcing. Aircraft repair work is now done at 4,800 repair stations from Brazil, China and Peru to Georgia and California.
As we noted last November, “…of the 71 percent of heavy maintenance that is now farmed out by U.S. airlines, 27 percent of that work goes overseas where regulations often fail to live up to the standards imposed in America.” In 1996, U.S. carriers spent $1.5 billion on contract maintenance – that figure almost tripled to $4.2 billion in 2011. By 2021, experts predict $76 billion will be going to contract repair stations located both in this country and around the world.
That places a crucial burden on the FAA to make sure enough well-trained professionals are using a rational, consistent system to repair, maintain and inspect aircraft at outsourced facilities. But the DOT IG’s report confirmed what we have known for a long time — the FAA has not provided its inspection workforce with the tools or training it needs to do an effective job.
And when oversight is lax, problems at the stations can occur. Of the 27 repair stations examined by the IG, 21 did not maintain accurate training records, 13 had weaknesses in their tool and equipment programs and 10 had deficiencies in their maintenance processes.
This is also why we have advocated aggressively for reforms that reflect today’s airline industry and have called out airlines such as JetBlue that rely heavily on foreign repair stations that, as this IG report points out, often fail to meet U.S. safety standards.
We owe the flying public a better way to oversee our aircraft repair system. We need regulations that reflect the epidemic levels of outsourcing that define today’s airline industry.
On any given day in Washington someone important makes a speech about the need to invest in our passenger and freight transportation system and put Americans to work. Routinely that speech doesn’t answer the only question that matters: how do we pay for it? We helped to answer that question today at a special House panel hearing on freight issues.
Our message was that the government can’t “abdicate” its responsibility to lead on freight transportation policy and funding. And abdicate it has for much of this generation as our transportation infrastructure is, as I pointed out today, “barely cracking the top 25” worldwide.
Our members are at the center of this debate. They work in freight rail, port/maritime, aviation, highway and trucking and without them there is no freight transportation system. They move what the panel has identified as 17.6 billion tons of goods valued at over $18 trillion. The Department of Transportation projects that tonnage will soar 70 percent by 2020, with some gateways experiencing a tripling of freight volumes. That fact alone should frighten our elected leaders to get something done.
The problem is that while every analysis concludes that our transportation system is harming our economic interests and stunting job creation, we suffer from decades of neglect, failed small-government policies and plain old lack of political will.
In addition to crumbling roads and bridges, the capacity of our waterways to receive ever-larger vessels is deficient, our railheads often are located miles from the ports, and our aviation technology is riddled with inefficiency and funding delays. Visualize bottlenecks, breakdowns and added costs of doing business – hardly the blueprint for a 21st Century economic renaissance.
Today I offered a handful of steps that could be taken right now:
- Pass the bipartisan Harbor Maintenance Tax reform legislation to allow disbursement of federal funds collected for their intended purpose: port maintenance. Today the fund carries a $7 billion balance and only a fraction gets spent.
- Tell Americans and businesses the truth about the need to raise the federal gas tax and index it to inflation as a way to restore funding to the Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent by 2015. It’s bad business to rely on a funding source that hasn’t been increased in 20 years and whose buying power is down by 33 percent. And without action, our public transit, highway and bridge investments will virtually evaporate.
- Secure funds to fully implement the Federal Aviation Administration’s new satellite-based air traffic control system – NextGen – and end the era of forcing the FAA to manage through funding crises like the sequester nightmare. As thousands of flights are delayed or cancelled and our air cargo network also feels the squeeze, we told the panel that it is time to end the sequester and put FAA employees back to work.
Transportation workers are on the front lines of making our freight system work. It is time for Congress and the President to get beyond speeches and put a serious proposal on the table – laced with less rhetoric and more money – that will be there to retool, expand and modernize the way we move freight.
You can read more about our proposals here.
Starting this Sunday, almost all of the 47,000 workers at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will face unpaid furloughs as the reckless cuts forced by sequestration take hold. FAA workers will lose about one day per pay period until our elected leaders end this sequester nightmare.
Not only are FAA workers paying (literally) for the dysfunction of Washington, but now airline passengers and air carrier employees – and our economy – will pay a price as well.
Despite the fact that some politicians and pundits trivialize the effects of the sequester (I suspect they’re all reading from the same talking points), we know that 11 unpaid days over five months per worker is not just a bit of belt-tightening, it’s a disaster. Federal workers and their families will see their income go down through no fault of their own, and our entire transportation system will see the cascading effects on the safe movement of passengers and goods around the country.
As the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists have been warning for months, reduced staffing in an already strapped and aging air traffic system is a disaster. The sequester means fewer controllers, inspectors and maintenance experts, shuttered control towers and fewer available runways leading to delays and rising frustrations for airline passengers. Air carriers and their employees will also take a financial hit as the industry cancels flights.
Add in the Transportation Security Administration’s planned hiring freeze, and our entire aviation system will be defined by major flight delays, long security lines, a weakened industry and hundreds of thousands of really pissed off travelers. And by the way, these same travelers are also voters.
The math is pretty simple here. When you reduce flights per hour at major airports by as much as 40 percent, the impacts will be severe and they will ripple throughout airports of all sizes. Note to lawmakers: expect to be blamed for your constituents’ flight delays.
These cuts in capacity and their impacts on the integrity of our aviation system are real. What also is real is the impact on workers. As the Air Line Pilots Association has warned, the financial toll on our airlines could translate to job losses. And as the largest union representing federal workers — the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) — notes, the reality facing their families is a 20 percent pay cut.
The clock is ticking toward Sunday. President Obama and Congress must act now to avoid the furloughs and spare travelers of the wrath from the dysfunction of Washington.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
That’s our message to U.S. government trade negotiators as they enter into talks on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, with the European Union.
We’ve seen how balanced global trade can create good jobs, boost the economy, and open new markets. But we’ve also seen how trade done the wrong way can ravage industries that are pillars of our economy, destroy middle-class jobs, and even threaten our security.
Recently, I was invited to represent transportation labor at a high-level joint EU-US regulatory forum. This forum was designed to bring various interests into one room to discuss key issues revolving around the TTIP negotiations.
Our message was a simple one: keep aviation and maritime issues off the table. The Europeans want to include them in negotiations, a position that shouldn’t surprise anyone given the EU’s attempts in 2010 to again change how foreign entities invest in our airlines. Fortunately, negotiators for the U.S. government – led by the departments of State and Transportation – rejected EU overtures while still managing to reach agreement on an open skies deal.
Current aviation laws protect U.S. air carriers and employees from unfair competition, preserve basic labor rights and ensure America’s status as a world leader in air transportation. I haven’t seen a good argument in favor of changing our current policy, unless the objective is to inject unfair competition. Ask an out of work auto, steel or aerospace worker why trade policy matters.
Our current laws weren’t written cavalierly. They remain in place partly because our airline industry is intertwined with our national security. I suspect our government’s military and national security leaders would like to know that foreign interests will not control decisions about whether we do (or don’t) deploy our commercial aircraft fleet in support of military and humanitarian aid missions abroad. It makes good sense for Americans to control our airlines, not foreign entities that may not share our nation’s objectives.
It isn’t as if our aviation trade regime isn’t working; the existing administrative framework led to the completion of 107 open skies deals. This is the model that we will continue to support – not throwing aviation into the larger pot of complex issues that will dominate TTIP talks.
For similar reasons, the American maritime industry shouldn’t be in these talks either. The Jones Act, which requires that cargo moving between U.S. ports be transported aboard vessels that are crewed, flagged, owned and built American, has been on the books since 1922 and helps sustain an industry that employs 500,000 and generates $100 billion in annual revenue. Why does this matter? Well, because similar to aviation, the benefits of a strong U.S. merchant marine go far beyond the economic.
Our merchant marine is another source of support for our troops overseas and for delivery of humanitarian aid around the globe. The fact is that not a single military or humanitarian mission is executed without the support of our U.S. merchant marine. We should be promoting the growth of U.S. maritime, not negotiating it away – or accelerating the already alarming decline of this industry – as part of a broader trade agenda. To do so would place good jobs and our economic and national security at risk.
So what exactly is broken that needs fixing?
Public pressure is mounting on yet another company — Patriot Coal — attempting to hide behind federal bankruptcy law to strip health care and pensions from more than 20,000 workers and retirees. But more must be done to keep the heat on before another corporation breaks its promises.
That is exactly what up to 10,000 union members and supporters were doing earlier this week when they marched on Patriot Coal headquarters in Charleston, W.Va., to protest the company’s move to cut employee retirement and health care. Leading the way was United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts who, along with 15 others, were arrested for civil disobedience.
But we cannot let the UMWA stand in this fight alone. This goes far beyond the hills of West Virginia, and impacts more than just union coal miners. This was even evidenced yesterday when Patriot asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis to cap the life insurance benefits if its non-union retirees, and dispose of all life insurance for active non-union employees.
Bankruptcy was designed to help individuals and companies in times of great difficulty. Bankruptcy should not be a license to steal, or a green light for lawyers to cook up schemes that enrich a select few by robbing a great many.
A growing number of elected officials, thankfully, are taking a public stand on the side of workers and retirees – and against destructive corporate greed. In recent weeks U.S. senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), and West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin have all condemned Patriot’s actions, as did AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who spoke at the rally.
As we’ve written about before, this company was formed when Peabody Energy and Arch Coal merged for the sole purpose of triggering a self-serving bankruptcy. This shell game produced a new company – offensively named Patriot – that is asking a bankruptcy judge to throw out its contract with the United Mine Workers of America. Earlier this year the 33 unions of the TTD Executive Committee stood together to condemn Patriot’s shameful, arrogant agenda.
I’ve always been moved by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Patriot Coal is a poster child for corporate greed and arrogance. We cannot remain silent. We cannot let them win.
In times this tough, and in the face of injustice this grave, workers and public officials everywhere must take a stand. Please take action today to support the UMWA in its Fairness at Patriot campaign.
I encourage transportation workers everywhere to support the National Association of Letter Carriers this Sunday for its Day of Action to educate and mobilize Americans in support of continuing six-day mail delivery from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe’s reckless, unilateral move to end Saturday delivery will disproportionately harm those who need it the most – our nation’s poor, elderly, disabled, and those in rural areas. It will hurt small business, cut jobs, and send the USPS on a severe downward spiral.
Transportation workers can see disturbing parallels as yet another great American institution seeks to fix its financial problems by cutting service to those most in need and eliminating thousands of jobs in the process. Just a few examples: critics of Amtrak want to eliminate parts of our national passenger rail network because they don’t turn a profit; local transit agencies are experiencing record ridership levels, yet cutting service because of a broken funding mechanism; and federal support for rural air service is attacked as government waste even though the program provides essential air transportation to communities that have few options.
Hiding behind fuzzy math and flawed logic, the USPS says it has no choice but to cut Saturday delivery. But it does not have to be this way. In 2006 Congress ordered that the USPS fund, in advance, most retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. No other agency or company operates this way, and this mandate has accounted for 85 percent of USPS losses since 2007. If the more than 90 percent of letter carriers who belong to the NALC say we should change this pre-funded benefit arrangement and leave Saturday delivery alone, perhaps the Postmaster General should listen. And in fact, all unions at the USPS have announced opposition to the Donahoe plan.
Call me old school, but I still believe that we are one nation that should be united by certain core public services. Whether it is passenger rail and mass transit, interstate highways, air traffic control or postal delivery, our nation can be strengthened and better linked by a sustained investment in modern and efficient institutions and services that link us as a nation. When I think about who would be harmed most by cold-hearted cuts to the USPS, I hear the ghosts of Mitt Romney’s shameful dismissal of 47 percent of Americans.
We’ve all seen the disastrous consequences for customer service and our economy when once-proud pillars of our transportation industry are weakened by poor leaders who make all the wrong choices and cut all the wrong corners. Let’s not let that happen at the postal service and join the NALC in saying no to this wrongheaded and illegal plan.
Every day around the world, women, children and men become victims of human trafficking and are exploited for domestic work, sweatshop labor or sex. Too often, those exploited arrive at their destination through our vast transportation system.
It’s estimated that 27 million people fall prey to modern-day slave-traders. And if you think this is not a problem in the U.S., you would be wrong. The United Nations tells us that human trafficking is a $32 billion-per-year industry, with half of those profits made in industrialized nations. And in fact, a UNICEF brief explains that the U.S. is “a source and transit point for trafficking and is considered one of the major destinations for trafficking victims.”
That’s why the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) is joining the effort to better educate transportation workers about the horrors of human trafficking.
Transportation workers are uniquely positioned to help combat this global scourge on humanity. The TTD Executive Committee, made up of leaders of 33 unions with members in the transportation sector, has endorsed the Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking initiative led by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), praising Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for his leadership on this difficult issue.
As part of the DHS Blue campaign, DOT has begun training its 55,000 employees and 20,000 contractors in ways to identify the warning signs of trafficking, and Amtrak, whose workforce is largely represented by TTD-affiliated unions, is training its 20,000 workers on how to recognize and safely report to authorities instances in which passengers appear to be trapped in a trafficking situation. Other employers are following suit and we will cooperate in this effort.
The policy statement adopted by the TTD Executive Committee affirms our commitment to do our part given the fact that traffickers rely on our nation’s transportation network to move their victims inconspicuously and hide their crimes in plain view. With modern communications tools and strategic partnering with employers, transportation workers are perfectly situated to spot someone being trafficked and help in the fight to end to this global human tragedy.
I can’t say I’m surprised, but the new House Republican budget has me wondering: What planet are some of our politicians living on? Perhaps a utopian planet where the people are guaranteed middle-class jobs, never get sick or old, and don’t have a stack of credit card, heating or tuition bills to pay?
Since we know that place doesn’t exist, we fought against Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals in 2011 and 2012. But he is back with a new rendition – and this one is even worse because it does nothing to fix the devastating cuts brought by the recent sequester and it hollows out our economy. Some 750,000 jobs will be lost permanently this year if the Ryan Budget is enacted. In 2014, we would lose 2 million more jobs, according to preliminary estimates by the Economic Policy Institute.
In the transportation sector alone, the Ryan plan would set us on a backward path, more toward the 1950s than the 2020s.
Ryan would keep investments in transportation lower than current levels for the next decade, greatly damaging our ability to maintain and modernize our failing infrastructure, and costing untold transportation, construction, manufacturing and other jobs. Remember, current investment levels are dangerously low, while Rep. Ryan claims that the job-creating characteristics of transportation investments have been “oversold.” What’s been oversold is this idea that if you just cut taxes for the super-rich you will unleash a new entrepreneurial uprising. Sounds like that planet again.
Facts can be stubborn.
Is Ryan aware that if the FAA operations budget is cut by the mandated amount under sequestration, up to 2,200 air traffic controllers could be furloughed, a situation that will undermine the capacity of our national air system? And how exactly do we make sure the FAA’s workforce is staffed up so that we can accommodate the 1.1 billion airline passengers forecast to be enplaned by U.S. airlines alone by 2025 if we lock in anemic aviation funding levels for the next decade?
Has Ryan considered that more than 30 percent of all vessels traveling in and out of our ports are constrained because of inadequate maintenance of our navigation channels, costing billions of dollars in lost economic activity? Hmmm, I wonder if the waterways on that planet never need dredging?
How exactly do public transit systems handle soaring ridership while the Ryan plan would slash transit jobs and capital and operating budgets? Or what does Ryan think about the implications of a report by the Army Corps of Engineers that 70,000 of our bridges are structurally deficient? I guess in a utopian world bridges never fall down.
We know what the American people who live on this planet think. Last November, they repudiated Ryan’s beliefs by soundly voting against him and his presidential running mate.
Ryan told the press yesterday that the election results haven’t changed his philosophy and beliefs. That’s fine, but how about respecting the American people and their beliefs? How about making government work for the middle class, the poor and seniors by creating jobs, making the tax codes fairer, fighting for health care users and not insurance companies, and preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
It looks like we will be fighting a familiar fight this year on Planet Nonsense.
If you have a retirement plan and hope to use it one day, you can understand why the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) is fighting against a scam being pulled by Peabody Energy and Arch Coal to shed retiree health and pension obligations via the bankruptcy of its straw man company – Patriot Coal.
Peabody, the largest coal producer in the world, is trying to manipulate its way out of the agreed pension and health care responsibilities for more than 20,000 retired coal miners in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. Peabody shifted more than a half-billion dollars of its pension and health care responsibilities in 2007 over to its spin-off company Patriot Coal, which is also responsible for the obligations of a company called Magnum Coal, a creation of Arch that Patriot acquired in 2008. Patriot Coal has now filed for bankruptcy and claims it cannot pay the benefits.
You confused yet? We’re not – we’ve seen this movie.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time companies have used this corporate shell game to forgo their responsibilities to hard working families. Corporations often manipulate laws and develop shell companies to use as a scapegoat in an attempt to increase executive pay and force the middle class to carry the burden. Patriot Coal also likes to manipulate standard industry terms, but referring in court to retirement benefits as “unsustainable labor-related liabilities.” Really, Patriot?
This is why TTD is standing in solidarity with UMWA whose members have worked far too hard to have the rug pulled out from underneath them by corporate greed. You can join the fight by signing the petition to maintain the benefits promised by Peabody and Arch and their hollow creation Patriot Coal.
We will stand with these workers in their fight to attain a piece of the American dream. We will condemn corporate scams designed to deny workers the benefits they have earned.
Stand with these workers.
There’s plenty of disagreement in Washington over the role of government. For me, “more or less” isn’t the question. What interests me is smart government. Don’t we all want smart policies that keep us strong and competitive?
Maritime cargo preference laws help us do that and they need to be strengthened, not undermined.
Our cargo preference policies were designed decades ago to promote the health of a privately owned U.S.-flag fleet, and the maintenance of a highly trained mariner workforce. The policies do not apply to the transport of purely private commercial export-import cargoes, but only to U.S. government-generated cargoes.
The strength of a U.S.-fleet is integral to national security. It serves as a naval auxiliary in times of war or national emergency, and in fact delivered the majority of the material to our early Iraqi missions. A little known fact: since 2009, U.S.-flag vessels and U.S. maritime workers have moved more than 90 percent of all cargoes to Afghanistan and Iraq.
But military aid is only part of the story. U.S.-flag vessels also deliver humanitarian aid around the world, including grain and other staples to feed the starving.
Mostly, the system works well, but when the laws are loosely applied or undermined, our cargo can end up on privately owned ships flying foreign flags—and lead to the loss of good middle-class jobs for U.S. mariners, not to mention the hollowing out of our U.S.-flag maritime capacity.
That’s not smart government, and it’s not just hypothetical.
Last year, in the dead of night without input from TTD and its maritime unions or the maritime industry, Republicans in Congress exacerbated the already dangerous slide of our U.S. maritime industry striking at the core of our cargo preference laws. As a result, the longstanding cargo preference requirements for International Food Aid cargo was cut from 75 percent to 50 percent.
That is neither smart nor fair, and we strongly opposed this maneuver.
In fact, we supported bipartisan legislation introduced later that would have restored the food aid requirement to 75 percent. Despite bipartisan support, that measure stalled but we will push it forward this year.
The White House also bears responsibility to uphold strong cargo preference. As our Executive Committee has asserted, the Administration should commit to fully adhere to the laws and give the Maritime Administration the resources and authority it needs to implement and enforce cargo preference 100 percent of the time, throughout the federal agencies. Unfortunately, without this stepped up enforcement — and a clear directive from our government — too many cabinet agencies will continue freelancing and setting their own policies.
These reforms are smart. They are not radical nor are they burdensome.
Let’s allow our government to fulfill cargo preference laws in the spirit in which they were written into our laws. That will be our message to lawmakers and the Administration in the months ahead.