That’s the problem we have today in the freight rail industry. Too many tired employees are involved in operating trains and maintaining electric signal systems. But there are solutions: curb the unpredictable work schedules and hours worked and end the practice of gaming the rules on how railroads “count” the hours worked by their signal employees.
So here’s a quick glimpse into the tired lives of members of the two TTD affiliates that are leading the charge for common sense reforms – the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.
Although current rules limit a work shift to 12 hours and mandate 10 hours of undisturbed rest after a shift, the boss can call an employee to work at any time after that 10-hour period of rest with two hours’ or less notice. Here’s a real world example. You are a rail worker, and you have just spent the day on yard work. You finally get cleaned up, sit down to eat a hot meal, start thinking about a nap when the phone rings and you find you have less than two hours to prepare yourself for a full shift. Sound fair?
Congress and the Obama Administration need to change what are referred to as “hours-of-service” laws by moving the required 10 hours of undisturbed rest from immediately after service to immediately before service. Effectively, these workers should be given 10 hours’ notice before being expected to report for work. This gives them the predictability they need to get the appropriate amount of rest before their shift starts rather than after they leave work. Or, as an alternative, they should be assigned predictable work schedules. Neither happens today.
Signal employees face a different problem with the same outcome. At issue are definitions of “covered work.” For example, when a signalman on duty is digging a ditch in order to install a railroad signal, the time spent digging the ditch does not count toward the hours-of-service limit. Only certain work is counted. Huh? Yes, somehow in the freight rail industry digging a ditch for a signal system installation is not considered work and apparently doesn’t lead to any fatigue. This must change too.
The freight rail industry is a place where men and women can secure middle-class careers. But too often their working lives are spent in a state of chronic fatigue. If our government closes the regulatory loopholes and stops employers from using technicalities to evade or game the rules, we will have a safer freight rail industry.
When it comes to the postal “reform” bill now before the U.S. Senate, you have to wonder what has happened to common sense. If Congress damages the U.S. Postal Service and imperils its future, is that reform?
We say no, and we echo the TTD Executive Committee’s call for the Senate to reject S. 1486, a bill that would slash middle-class jobs and impose unfair reforms to postal employee benefits. As a broad coalition of transportation unions, we understand the important role that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) plays in the movement of mail and goods throughout the country and as a major transportation provider.
Tens of thousands of postal workers, including members of our affiliate, the National Association of Letter Carriers, face losing their jobs over the misguided effort of S. 1486, while the focus should be on real solutions to ensure the financial solvency of the USPS.
Instead, S. 1486 would pave the way for the elimination of Saturday service and of door-to-door service—hurting residents and small businesses, creating a disadvantage for the USPS as it competes for business, and furthering the decline of the middle class by pushing dedicated employees out of their jobs.
Here are some of the bill’s worst features:
- It requires USPS to cut Saturday delivery—and eliminate 80,000 jobs—if total mail volume falls below an arbitrary threshold of 140 billion pieces.
- It creates a two-tiered workforce by changing the eligibility requirements for retirement and savings plans for new employees.
- It imposes discriminatory reforms to the workers’ compensation program that would affect all federal workers, not just those with USPS. The bill also mandates that USPS pre-fund workers’ comp benefits—a burden that no other federal agency bears, and which will do nothing to ensure financial solvency.
Even as the USPS has begun to post profits and turn itself around, S. 1486 would short-circuit the comeback and create new problems. We urge the Senate to reject S. 1486 and consider the reform plan offered by USPS unions to pay down debt with pension surpluses, provide greater pricing freedom and free the Postal Service to innovate and offer new services.
Before the United States of America was formed as a republic, the Postal Service helped to knit together its fabric. Congress should think hard before it slashes USPS services in the name of “reform.”
Norwegian Air Shuttle has cooked up just such a scheme, and the Obama Administration has a golden opportunity to send a message about U.S. resolve to defend good jobs and strategically critical industries such as aviation.
In a bid to expand its transatlantic operations and offer cut-rate fares, Norwegian Air Shuttle has created a subsidiary – Norwegian Air International (NAI) – which has obtained an air operators certificate in Ireland. Why Ireland? Because this allows NAI to bypass Norwegian labor laws and hire Thailand-based pilots whose individual employment contracts are governed by Singaporean law. In other words, NAI wants to scour the globe for the cheapest labor it can find and exploit.
So here’s where the Obama Administration comes in: NAI has applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a foreign air carrier permit. The company needs this permit to offer expanded service to American cities.
As the nation grapples with skyrocketing wage inequality and a shrinking middle class, the last thing we need to do is introduce new downward pressures on middle-class airline jobs. The Norwegian scheme takes direct aim at middle-class jobs on both sides of the Atlantic which is why we have formed a coalition with European aviation unions.
The administration has ample grounds to say no to NAI. The proposed operating arrangement violates the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement (ATA), which expanded aviation trade but expressly rejected any use of the expanded rights in this pact to “lower labor standards” or undermine collective bargaining rights. These employee protections were negotiated into the agreement to stop NAI-like airlines from gaining a foothold in the transatlantic market.
The Transportation Trades Department has supported aviation trade pacts that expand service and middle-class airline jobs. But the NAI scheme has no place in the ever-expanding aviation trade relationship between the U.S. and EU. If approved, it will set a standard that airlines can only compete for international routes by scouring the globe for the lowest labor standards.
The Obama Administration must reject the NAI application, and send a clear message that such business models will not be rewarded with expanded access to the U.S. aviation market. You can join the effort by signing ALPA’s petition asking the administration to defend U.S. airlines and airline jobs and #DenyNAI.
If you rely on some form of surface transportation—car, bus, mass transit—to get around, you may be in for a shock later this year. The federal government’s Highway Trust Fund, which pays for the upkeep of our roads, bridges and public transit, could go broke as early as August unless Congress acts to restore its solvency.
Needless to say, that would be a disaster not only for the vast majority of Americans, but for our fragile economic recovery.
It should come as a surprise to no one that our neglect of the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure has reached a critical point. This crisis has been years in the making, reflecting a deep lack of political will in Washington to tackle the problem head on.
Fixing the Highway Trust Fund is not rocket science—we need more revenue, a lot more. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections released last week, we will need $100 billion over the next six years just to continue current funding levels. This doesn’t even include the amount we need to address decades of underinvestment in our surface transportation systems.
If you’re experiencing sticker shock, that’s because our political leaders have failed to level with the American public about what it costs to pay for the modern and safe transit systems, highways and bridges we desperately need. In the absence of that conversation, Congress has let more than 20 years go by without raising the federal gas and diesel fuel tax, the primary source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. During that time the fund’s buying power has plunged 33 percent—and the nation’s surface infrastructure has deteriorated so much that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given it a failing grade that should make Americans and our businesses cringe.
We need to address the funding shortfall for the Highway Trust Fund, and we need to do it now. One approach is to raise the gas tax by 15 percent and index it to inflation as we have previously endorsed. Other options can and should be on the table. Yes I wrote it and lightening didn’t strike. We can and should consider a tax increase, but first things first—let’s tell the American people the truth and then build support for additional federal funding.
A good place to start the conversation is by making it clear that the economic recovery will falter unless we act decisively to fix our crumbling infrastructure. As my friend Rich Trumka, the leader of the AFL-CIO, told a Senate hearing today: “Failure to act will mean our transportation system will decay further…and our economic and global competitiveness will be harmed well into the future.” On the other hand, Trumka noted, we will create an estimated 35,000 well-paying jobs for every billion dollars of federal investment in our surface transportation system.
In case you’re wondering, top business leaders are not at odds with this plan. In a rare moment of solidarity, Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sat side-by-side today with Mr. Trumka to urge Congress to fix the Highway Trust Fund before it’s too late.
The stakes are clear: either we pay for the vital infrastructure we need, or we let our transit systems, highways and economy collapse. What are we waiting for?
We just concluded a remarkable meeting in Oslo, Norway, with our labor counterparts in Europe to accelerate a campaign against flag of convenience airlines that seek to scour the globe for low labor standards and lax rules and regulations. We gathered in Norway to make the case against Norwegian Air International (NAI), which has designs on expanding service in Europe and to the United States using cockpit and cabin crew based in Thailand and covered under the labor laws of Singapore. We also came to Oslo to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with airline employees in Norway who face the real consequences of seeing one of their own major airlines evade its social obligations.
The Norwegian scheme not only threatens a high-road global aviation industry but it takes direct aim at middle-class airline jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. This operating scheme also violates both the spirit and the intent of the 2010 U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement that expanded aviation trade but expressly rejected any use of the expanded rights in this pact to “lower labor standards.” Clearly NAI fails on this test—in fact, the NAI operation as constructed today will undercut the high labor standards found in the U.S. and most of Europe by up to 50 percent.
Meanwhile, Norwegian has been putting on a clever media road show of late as it attempts to deflect criticism pointed at its business model. One day it says its opponents fear competition and the next day it promises robust job growth. Its strategy is focused entirely on one thing: obtaining government authority in Europe and the U.S. to launch this airline service. So it keeps rolling out new promises hoping the stench wears off. We’re still wondering why NAI just doesn’t hire more Norwegian airline employees to expand service and why it has to force its new hires (whether they are European or American) to be based in Bangkok and work under Singaporean individual employment contracts. NAI officials conveniently ignore those facts.
If Norwegian wants to have a conversation about fair competition, we’re all ears. But fair competition is not what this scheme is about. No, it is about a low-road airline business model that threatens high aviation standards in the U.S. and Europe and, yes, it violates the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement.
The U.S. and European labor movement spoke out today against Walmarting the airline industry and we committed to wage that fight together.
Capt. Lee Moak is the President of the Air Line Pilots Association, Intl.
Edward Wytkind is President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
Tonight, President Obama will declare 2014 “a year of action” to expand opportunities for the middle class. We can work with that.
Transportation unions are focused like a laser on rebuilding the economy and the middle class by modernizing and expanding our transportation system, and along the way rescuing millions of Americans caught in the economic riptide.
The fastest way to fuel job growth and simultaneously address the income inequality crisis the President will discuss tonight is to connect more people living in or near poverty to the job of modernizing our neglected transportation system and infrastructure. You see, according to recent analyses of the world’s infrastructure, America’s infrastructure barely cracks the Top 25. For you college basketball fans, Coach K would cringe.
The President has a chance to lay out a vision tonight and a majority in Congress has a chance to face down extremists, take a timeout from partisan bickering and lame austerity policies, and do what’s right for the nation.
Here’s a short list for that “year of action” we’ll hear about tonight.
We Can’t Expand Public Transit and our Highways With Fairy Dust. So as you slept last night, the fund that pays for our transit systems, highways and bridges moved a day closer to insolvency. That’s correct—in less than a year this fund will go broke. If your commutes are long now or if you struggle to get your goods to market, just wait until there’s no money for our transit systems and highways. This isn’t rocket science. Congress and Presidents have failed to increase the federal fuel tax for 20 years and more and more Americans are driving high fuel economy autos, and thus are buying less gas. Result: less money for transit and highways. The President must call for a bipartisan truce to end this crisis and find a long-term funding solution with all options on the table.
We Can’t Expand Air Travel With 1950s Technology. It is staggering that we still rely on technology that dates back to the first color TV to move the 70,000 flights daily in our skies. We can do better—in fact, we must do better and stare down those who would ruin our aviation system with reckless austerity measures. But it will take a long-term investment (yes, that’s federal money) in air traffic control modernization and in a well-trained staff at the FAA to operate, maintain and inspect our aviation system. It will also require our government to oppose aviation trade policies that would eliminate U.S.-controlled airlines and permit foreign airlines to defy trade agreements and scour the globe for the cheapest labor possible at the expense of U.S. aviation jobs. The President must advance a national aviation policy vision that is funded and executed and protects jobs here at home.
We Can’t Expand Amtrak Without Expanding its Budget. Just because President Obama has championed building out a high-speed rail network doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. The President is right that Americans want more train service, not less. That is why Amtrak keeps breaking its own ridership records every year. Of course that hasn’t stopped some from pushing Amtrak bankruptcy budgets and risky privatization and outsourcing initiatives and I suspect those efforts won’t stop. The President must send a clear message that his vision of high-speed train service for more Americans will fail without a long-term plan to fund Amtrak and give it a chance to modernize and succeed.
We Can’t Compete Globally with Aging Ports and a Declining U.S. Merchant Marine. Right now yet another mega-ship (the size of these things is staggering) may be diverted to a foreign port. Why? Because we aren’t modernizing our ports fast enough and today one-third of them can’t even receive these ships. Meanwhile, only 2% of the vessels traveling through U.S. ports are staffed with U.S. crews. This must change, especially since the Defense Department relies on U.S. mariners for sealift capacity to transport most of the military personnel and cargo, and humanitarian aid sent overseas. We will not lead the world economy if we don’t beef up our maritime sector and reject policies that are hollowing out the U.S. Merchant Marine at the expense of national security and defense. The President must make maritime transportation a national priority.
We Can’t Wish for Better Jobs and Higher Wages. It is no coincidence that as fewer Americans in this generation have enjoyed the power of strong unions and collective bargaining, the middle class has been shrinking. The solution to lifting millions back into the middle class is giving them a chance to bargain for better wages and retirement security through strong unions. President Reagan once said, “Where collective bargaining is forbidden, freedom is lost.” Labor Secretary Tom Perez told the nation last week, “Workers’ ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining has been a cornerstone of a strong middle class.” The President has an opportunity to reaffirm his view that if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class, our labor policies must empower more working people to form and join unions.
Looks like 2014 ushered in an ugly reality for transit commuters: their transit benefits got slashed because the federal transit tax benefit was rolled back. What that means is that on January 1 the price to get to work—for those using buses, trains and subways—just went up. We could assume that traffic delays just went up with it.
On January 1, the federal transit benefit (that is, the amount you can receive without being taxed on the benefit as income) was cut nearly in half–from $245 to $130 a month. If you’re a fan of congested roads, air pollution, dependence on foreign oil and paying more for your commute, this move should make you happy. So now instead of treating parking and transit tax benefits equally–one (parking) is set at $250 per month while the other snaps back to $130. That means every dollar in transit benefits you receive at work over $130 will be taxable. Oh and by the way, employers will see their payroll tax bill go up unless they cut their employees’ transportation benefits.
It appears that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie isn’t the only politician who’s okay with dissing commuters.
But there is a solution. We must get behind legislation that would permanently increase the public transit benefit and bring it in line with what drivers receive in pre-tax parking benefits.
This is not a battle between the political parties. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter King (R-NY) and Michael Grimm (R-NY) tried to fix this problem in the House before the transit benefit expired last year. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has fought for a legislative fix as well, only to be thwarted by obstructionists and done in by the congressional calendar.
This is a no-brainer. Commuting Americans should have the choice to use their tax benefits for a bus or train ride or to park a car. That’s the American way. Not everyone gets to drive to work and those Americans who don’t or can’t shouldn’t be penalized by a skewed tax code.
[As published Dec. 27 by Edward Wytkind in the Huffington Post]
Ebenezer Scrooge would love America’s approach to funding its transportation needs, but the miserly refusal by too many of our leaders to invest in transportation could haunt us for decades to come. That’s why our nation’s holiday wish list for 2014 must include a comprehensive vision — and adequate resources — for strengthening the country’s transportation systems, which are the lifeblood of a growing 21st century economy.
Several decades of Scrooge-like transportation budgets have left our bridges falling down, our aviation system suffering from outdated technology and inadequate capacity, our rail and transit systems forced to curtail service as demand soars, and our ports and navigation channels unable to compete in a global economy. And amidst an anemic recovery, these policies have left millions of American jobs on the sidelines.
The good news is that we can change course — well, that is if the politicians find the will to do so. They must stop the brinksmanship, reject destructive austerity budgets and start investing in a long-term plan that ends the decades of neglect of our transportation system that have left the entire network in a state of severe disrepair.
This plan must, at its core, focus on job creation. And, if we do it right, we can leverage our investments that we need to make in transportation to rekindle an important aspect of our manufacturing sector. We must get back to building things in America. That’s why we announced our new partnership with the Jobs to Move America coalition that has a plan to direct the billions of taxpayer dollars spent annually on rail car and bus procurement toward companies that maximize job creation and make those jobs available to disadvantaged communities and veterans.
And that’s just the start. When Congress comes back in session, TTD has an agenda to get our economy moving that includes:
Providing long-term funding to ensure a strong national Amtrak rail network. Once a global passenger leader in rail, the United States has fallen far behind much of the developed world, and the reason is simple: we have failed to invest in a modern, integrated rail system. Too often policy makers in Washington have offered Amtrak bankruptcy budgets and advanced an old and tired idea that you can privatize your way to a successful national passenger rail system. Austerity policies and letting foreign private interests cherry-pick those parts of Amtrak that can make them a buck will not deliver better transportation options — these policies will lead to balkanization of the system and abandon much of America. When it comes to our strong freight rail system, we must direct strategic investments to relieve major bottlenecks that harm our economy and we must advance safety reforms that will keep the public and rail employees safe, and this critical commerce thriving.
Keeping our federal transit and highway funds from going insolvent. We need to fix the broken funding mechanism for our nation’s transit systems, highways and bridges. The fact is that the fuel-tax funded mechanism hasn’t seen an increase in 20 years, meaning that we will be running a 2014 surface transportation system on a 1993 budget. Congress and the President must get beyond the speeches and enact a bipartisan plan — yes, a fuel tax hike should be on the table. Other than impacting our economic future and threatening thousands of jobs, not much else is at stake in the outcome of this debate.
Funding and modernizing our air traffic control system. If we are to maintain the safest aviation system in the world, and continue to compete internationally, we need to make sure the FAA has the funding it needs to deal with a severe staffing crisis, know that projects won’t be delayed or shelved due to more fits and starts, and will have a research and development budget that produces systems on the cutting edge. We cannot have the same crippling stalemates on Capitol Hill over FAA reauthorization like the ones we have seen in recent years, or the government shutdowns that severely impacted the agency and scapegoated its employees.
Reforming harbor maintenance spending and passing the Water Resources Development Act. This legislation, pending in a House-Senate conference committee, will make America more competitive and create thousands of jobs by improving our ports, harbors and waterways. More than 50 years have passed since we opened the world’s first container terminal at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Today, rather than being on the forefront of maritime transportation innovation, we find ourselves staggering to keep up. Many of our ports can’t even receive the new generation of mega-vessels because we’ve slowed channel dredging to a crawl. It is time to get this legislation to the President so that our nation’s ports and waterways can be modernized and catch up with the rest of the world.
Let’s hope 2014 can be known as the Year of Transportation, or at the very least, the year we busted the Washington logjam on providing the essential transportation and job needs of our country. Scrooge would cringe, but for the rest of us that’s a resolution we can get behind.
Follow Edward Wytkind on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@EdWytkind
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Norwegian airline registers its aircraft in Ireland, “rents” flight crews based in Thailand covered by the labor laws of Singapore, and then applies for a foreign air carrier permit from the United States. Unfortunately, this is not the start of a bad joke but a new business model being peddled by Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS). In comments filed with the Department of Transportation yesterday, TTD urged the DOT to reject this “flag of convenience” scheme that is specifically designed to undercut wages and working conditions of aviation employees.
TTD President Ed Wytkind also denounced the NAS application in this opinion piece in Aviation Daily. He noted that this debate is timely and relevant as the EU is seeking to include aviation in the broader and more complex Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, specifically making this point:
“The EU is attempting to jam aviation into those talks with the ultimate goal of gutting current foreign ownership and control laws and weakening U.S. rules that reserve U.S. domestic point-to-point airline service (cabotage) for U.S. airlines. Under the EU’s vision, we’d cede control of our airlines to foreign investors who will decide who crews flights, who maintains and services aircraft, who works in reservations and who reaps the profits.”
Finally, Ed raised these and other international aviation issues in his testimony last week in front of the House Aviation Subcommittee. And he made an additional point that too often is forgotten: If we are to have an efficient domestic aviation system and an industry that can compete internationally, we need a well-funded air traffic control operation. Sequestration, furloughs and government shutdowns have had a terrible impact on the FAA and its ability to provide the services and oversight that is integral to our aviation system.
There is a lot at stake for aviation employees. We need smart government policies that promote U.S. competitiveness so that our aviation industry can continue to thrive and bring high-quality U.S. aviation jobs to the table.
Last week TTD was proud to host our second School Bus Summit bringing together drivers, local union leaders and advocates and allies for a frank and productive discussion on the challenges facing this workforce. We covered a lot of ground—the need for more consistent driver training; challenges posed by overcrowded school buses and what do about it; the proper regulation of sleep apnea; and debunking myths and promises peddled by too many private contractors seeking to take over bus services from local school districts.
As you can imagine, we had a busy day. And to add context to our discussion, the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Anne Ferro joined us, as did other DOT representatives who together offered their insight and expertise on this often overlooked sector of our transportation system. Anne Ferro in particular delivered an important message on the need to make school transportation services as safe and secure as possible.
But what struck me the most were the stories of school bus drivers from Colorado to Tennessee to our backyard here in Maryland. Whatever the issue was, it all came back to a genuine desire to do right by the children in their care.
Drivers want training and support to deal with bullying and other behavioral problems that can occur on a school bus. They told us of kids being packed into limited seats that may not be age or size appropriate and situations in which students are forced to stand in the aisle while no one seems to be able to regulate how many children can legally be on a bus. We need to fix that problem.
I have read countless reports and studies on the problems that can occur when school bus services are contracted out. But at the Summit, we had the chance to listen to participants talk about the tricks and scams some unscrupulous private companies use to win bids for cheaper service by slashing wages and destroying employee benefits, all under the guise of “savings.”
As we learned from drivers at the Summit, these contracting schemes can ultimately end up costing the school district more money. One private company in New York, using non-union workers, underbid to win a contract. After two years, consultants were paid to evaluate the decision, and the verdict was that it was more cost-effective and efficient to switch back to unionized drivers working for the district.
At the same time, school bus drivers continue to meet new requirements just to maintain their jobs. We heard from drivers who are required to undergo further medical review if they show risk factors associated with obstructive sleep apnea. In some cases, these drivers are forced off the job until their diagnosis is returned. No one wants to ensure the safe operation of school transportation services more than the very drivers operating the buses. But we must ensure that these drivers are treated fairly and that new requirements are not used to arbitrarily get rid of experienced drivers.
I want to thank everyone who joined us last week—especially those drivers that made us all smarter and more determined to address these challenges and do better to ensure the safety of our nation’s school children.