Speaking before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials today, Larry I. Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), called on federal lawmakers to invest in US rail and transportation infrastructure, and to use those investments to create good middle-class jobs.
Willis reminded lawmakers just how far the US has fallen behind when it comes to infrastructure investment, highlighting Amtrak’s Gateway Project and California High Speed Rail. He also warned against using infrastructure investment legislation as a vehicle to attack workers’ rights, jeopardize safety, or weaken the authority of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
Willis also addressed the most pressing challenge to transportation infrastructure investment: how to pay for it. He encouraged lawmakers to take seriously the need for significant public funding, advocated for shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, and cautioned against an over-reliance on private financing, as some have proposed.
“With strong support from the public, a promise from our President, and bipartisan interest in Congress, the time to end the lost generation of infrastructure investment is now,” Willis said. “Failing to act has jeopardized millions of good jobs, stifled economic expansion, and worsened wage inequality. Voters wonder why the richest country in the world no longer places a premium on high quality, modern infrastructure, and too many working families have been left behind.”
Strategically investment, paired with the right policies, can grow the United States middle class, according to Willis. “These investments are linked with good jobs and economic growth because workers in rail specifically and transportation more broadly generally benefit from collective bargaining rights and high union density,” he said. “We know that workers who belong to unions earn higher wages, enjoy better benefits, and are safer on the job than their non-union counterparts. As this committee considers transportation and rail investments it would be a mistake—and one that we would vigorously oppose—to weaken the application of long-standing labor protections or undermine collective bargaining.”
Willis also reiterated labor’s support for Buy America rules. Those “must also be included in any infrastructure package to maximize job creation in the manufacturing sector and create a sustainable market for US companies,” he said. “It would make little sense to invest the billions of dollars needed to remake our nation’s infrastructure, only to ship manufacturing jobs overseas.”