Not Only Airline Employees Have a Distaste for Norwegian’s Low-Road Expansion Plan

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Why would American hotel workers, electricians, teachers, construction workers and a host of transportation workers unite against a foreign airline’s attempt to expand service to the U.S.? The answer: This particular airline is using the same race-to-the bottom tactics deployed by global corporations that have left a bad taste in the mouth of just about every American who works hard for a living.

The scheme by Norwegian Air International (NAI), to grow its transatlantic operations in violation of international obligations and contrary to U.S. law, has triggered a backlash from more than 20 unions representing millions of workers across the country. On April 1, this broad coalition called on U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to reject NAI’s application for a foreign air carrier permit now pending before the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The controversy stems from NAI’s effort to register its aircraft in Ireland and hire Thailand-based flight crews through a Singaporean company so that it can scour the globe for the cheapest labor it can find and exploit. NAI may have thought it could slip under the radar, but the outcry against the airline’s Walmart-style strategy underscores a new determination in our movement to unify in the face of powerful business forces pressuring governments to do their bidding, The letter to Secretary Foxx pulls no punches in laying out why unions have coalesced against NAI’s expansion plans:

“As the representatives of unions that represent workers in several sectors of our economy we have seen first-hand the effects of un-checked globalization on the American workforce. Too often, poorly conceived and badly enforced free trade agreements have led to the offshoring of U.S. jobs. That is why U.S. industries that previously formed the backbone of our economy have seen dramatic job losses that have coincided with the erosion of the middle class.”

The signatories to the letter understand that while airline employees are the immediate target of Norwegian’s low-road ploy, workers across the breadth of the American and global economy face the same threat. By standing up to this airline scheme, the labor movement is sending a loud and clear message: with too many middle class jobs vanishing we will do battle with business schemes designed to destroy them.



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Get Onboard with School Bus Safety

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As we watch 25 million American children step onto a big yellow bus every morning, most of us assume someone is doing all that needs to be done to ensure they will arrive at school safely. We assume that our drivers have all the tools and training they need to deliver those children with care, and that our government is enforcing all of the right safety regulations to make this happen.

Far too often we are not meeting this most basic obligation. Yet it would take just a few straightforward changes to get school bus safety to where it needs to go.

Let’s start with stronger federal rules on bus overcrowding.

Some school bus drivers are required to transport more students than their buses can reasonably carry. Students on these buses are either packed into their seats, or left standing in aisles. Instead of accepting this needless threat to student safety, we must insist that the federal government establish standards to limit school bus capacity.

This overcrowding then plays into another problem facing our drivers. While operating these crowded buses, drivers also must frequently deal with behavioral problems, a challenge compounded by the fact that most drivers are not given the training they need to prevent or diffuse problematic behavior. Drivers need access to this training, and they need the support of the school district whenever they attempt to deal with these situations.

As if this weren’t enough, we also have private for-profit companies that bid for these contracts, offering alleged savings by undercutting the wages and benefits of the men and women we ask to safely transport our kids. We must keep a sharper eye on those who would game the system and hold them accountable.

School bus drivers face a tall list of requirements before getting behind the wheel. Let’s ensure that any new regulations treat drivers fairly by taking into consideration the unique nature of their jobs.

It is time to demand higher safety standards for school buses and better treatment of drivers, for the sake of our children and our communities.


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Time for a National Summit to Shine a Spotlight on Bus Driver Attacks

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Last month in Olympia, Wash., passengers on a city bus witnessed their driver being brutally beaten in an attack that was caught on video for the world to see. The footage is alarming and sickening. It was not, unfortunately, uncommon.

From sexual and physical assaults to verbal abuse, the nation’s bus drivers are facing an epidemic of hostility. In the New York area alone there are seven attacks per month on average that range from spitting to beatings to stabbings, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Other cities see the same level of hostility against drivers, meaning it is time to address this problem at the national level.

Last fall, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, called on the Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration to hold a summit on bus driver assaults. Today, with the blood-soaked face of the Olympia bus driver fresh in our minds, we renew that call.

We must evaluate new measures, and new technologies, being used successfully in parts of our country and abroad to protect drivers and their passengers, who often get dragged into the fray. The installation of Plexiglas partitions to separate drivers from passengers or other changes to a driver’s seating area, are options to consider. Another is the presence of uniformed police officers on buses, and tougher penalties for those who do attack drivers. Other steps include video surveillance and better training for drivers. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has started offering rewards of up to $2,000 for information that leads to the arrest and indictment of those assaulting drivers.

The solutions to curb violence against bus drivers are out there—we have simply lacked the will to implement them. This must change, and we can start by holding a national summit with transit unions, public transportation leaders, local law enforcement and the appropriate federal government agencies.

Let’s not wait until statistics on physical attacks become numbers of fatalities. The men and women who help keep America moving deserve better. They deserve the safest working environment this country can offer.




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Time to Give Transportation Security Officers the Job Security They Deserve

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Sometimes the smart thing to do and the right thing to do are one and the same.  That’s the case with providing full rights to America’s 45,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs).

The TSOs, employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), keep travelers and personnel safe at airports across the country.  But unlike virtually all federal workers, they are denied basic job protections, including the right to adequately appeal firings and suspensions.

This double standard is not only fundamentally unfair, it makes no sense.  Isn’t it in the public interest to ensure that the people charged with securing our airports are treated well and able to do their jobs without the fear of arbitrary or unwarranted punishment?

As it stands, worker satisfaction and morale at TSA are chronically low, and no wonder.  Knowing that you could be fired or suspended unfairly—and may not have the right to challenge such action—is not a recipe for a happy workforce.  It is particularly disheartening when nearly all other federal employees are granted this fundamental right by U.S. law, including many in TSA’s management who oversee transportation operations.  Why should there be a double standard for those who are on the ground each day protecting American passengers?

There’s a simple fix that could solve this problem, and it’s time for either the President or Congress to get it done.  We need rules or legislation that require TSA to follow the same laws, regulation and guidance regarding its workforce as other federal agencies, including intelligence agencies and others within the Department of Homeland Security.  The greater employee morale and efficiency at those agencies prove what we know to be true—that worker rights and protections need not be sacrificed in the name of safety.

Equal treatment for TSOs is both the smart thing, and the right thing to do.


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Tired Freight Rail Employees? You Bet

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A short quiz for you. If you had anything to do with the safe movement of a 10,000 ton freight train, does it make sense for you to routinely show up to work tired? Hint: NO.

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.


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Misguided Reform Effort in Senate Will Harm U.S. Postal Service

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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.”


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Obama Administration Should Say No to Norwegian Airline Scheme

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Our government shouldn’t reward airline companies that game our trade agreements and pursue a strategy to Walmart airline jobs.

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.


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Not Fixing the Highway Trust Fund Is Road to Ruin

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Ed SpeakingIf 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?


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No Thanks to Walmarting the Airline Industry

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By Lee Moak and Ed Wytkind

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.


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The State of the Union and Beyond

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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.


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