As Congress continues to review and update relevant laws governing commercial aviation programs for the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we oppose any effort to increase the pilot retirement age from age 65 to age 67. Under U.S. law, commercial airline pilots employed by airlines are required to retire at age 65.
Despite what special interests claim, raising the retirement age for airline pilots will not increase the supply of pilots. Doing so will put the United States in conflict with the mandates of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), force the reopening of hard-fought collective bargaining agreements, and create training backlogs that would imperil flight schedules and upend the entire U.S. national airspace system. Importantly, such a change has not been validated by the FAA or otherwise been studied in a satisfactory manner.
The United States is experiencing an acute shortage of professional mariners indispensable to U.S. national security, economic security, and humanitarian response efforts as a global peace leader. In 2017, the U.S. Maritime Administration found that the United States is approximately 1,800 mariners short of what is sufficient to mobilize a drawn-out military effort exceeding 4-6 months. Today, that number is much higher. With the war in Ukraine entering its second year and escalating U.S.-China tensions, the shortage of U.S. Merchant Mariners threatens U.S. national security. In a post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery, a whole-of-government approach is necessary to address significant maritime industry workforce concerns in recruitment and retention.
We call on Congress and the Biden Administration to implement aggressive strategies to resolve the mariner workforce gap by increasing enrollment at maritime academies and other maritime training institutions by breaking down financial barriers to entering the industry. Congress and the Biden Administration should increase student incentive payments for mariner education and training; subsidize expenses for academies and schools so costs are not shifted to the pockets of cadets and other entry-level mariners; and allow licensed and unlicensed merchant mariners to receive student loan forgiveness when they enter the workforce.
The U.S. aviation industry is one of the most heavily unionized industries in the United States, supporting close to 11 million jobs. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization will expire at the end of this fiscal year and Congress must pass a multi-year bill that advances policies that address workforce issues and make air transportation safer for passengers and employees. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 2023 travel levels in North America are expected to exceed pre-pandemic traffic levels, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates a record number of travelers to pass through U.S. airports this summer. Congress should pass an FAA Reauthorization bill supporting critical needs for aviation workers as the industry rebounds from the pandemic.
In March, federal lawmakers introduced the Ocean Shipping Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2023 (H.R. 1696) to repeal the limited antitrust immunity afforded to foreign ocean carriers and dissolve the three major foreign shipping company alliances. This would have serious unintended consequences for dockworkers and other maritime workers that service these foreign ocean carriers at U.S. ports.
Therefore, we oppose the Ocean Shipping Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2023, H.R. 1696, and urge lawmakers to consider the adverse impact that this legislation would have on U.S. maritime workers.
In the wake of the pandemic and its devastating impacts on public transportation both on ridership and revenue, transit systems across the country are facing a funding crisis that could have decades-long impacts on workers and the riders who are dependent on public transportation. While ridership has steadily improved since 2020, budget shortfalls coupled with other factors, including inflation and rising transit operating costs, threaten to exacerbate what is referred to in the industry as the “transit death spiral”: transit agencies cut service or increase fares and in turn fewer people use public transport, leading to even greater declines in revenue.
In the short term, this feedback loop of declining service will have disproportionate impacts on those who rely the most on transit to get to work, medical appointments, the supermarket, and other important needs. In the long term, it will devastate recovery forecasts for public transit while worsening street traffic, air quality, and our overall economy.
The labor movement stands united in our support for good, middle-class jobs; policies that address climate change; and safe transportation that brings equitable benefits to communities across the country. Billions in federal investment across the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will help achieve that goal in school bus fleets across the country, but as with any federal investment, these dollars must come with conditions that maintain or create quality union jobs for American workers. As with any rapid technological change, electrification threatens to displace the manufacturing workers, drivers, and mechanics who have committed their livelihoods to supporting the country’s education system. To meet our climate goals while ensuring good union jobs, the student transportation workforce must be front of mind as the federal government funds the deployment of electric school buses in communities across the country.
The horrific Norfolk Southern rail derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on the evening of February 3, 2023, highlighted a truth that rail labor unions have been vocal about for years: the freight rail industry has a fundamental disregard for the safety of workers and the general public. Congress must take decisive and comprehensive action to fix it. Rail workers have sounded the alarm for years about the deteriorating safety conditions in the freight rail industry. Actions taken by the Class I freight railroads both before and after the derailment demonstrate that they still have no interest in correcting their business practices that put lives and communities at risk every single day. Sadly, that is because they are driven by one thing, and one thing only: generating the most profit possible, regardless of anyone’s wellbeing but their own. It does not matter to them who gets hurt in the process.
Unfortunately, the East Palestine derailment is not an anomaly. The wide-reaching breadth of safety failures in the freight rail industry contributes to more than 1,000 freight rail derailments a year– nearly three a day. And contrary to the railroads’ rhetoric, the industry’s safety record is getting worse, not better. In fact, the accident and incident rate has increased over the last decade at four of the biggest Class I railroads: BNSF Railway, Union Pacific, CSX, and Norfolk Southern.
Firefighters are essential to a functional, safe transportation system. They play a critical role in not only protecting the public, but also the transportation workers who move passengers and cargo through our air transportation systems and who carry freight, including hazardous materials, through our national rail network. From responding to the derailment of freight trains carrying hazardous materials in residential communities to suppressing fires at airports, our transportation system could not safely function without firefighters. Sadly, too often, the fire service is left ill-equipped, insufficiently trained, understaffed, and underfunded to safely respond to emergencies. This must change.
To improve public safety, we call on Congress to increase funding for firefighter hazmat training; require rail companies to provide advanced notification of hazardous materials traveling through a fire department’s jurisdiction; set a minimum firefighter staffing level at civilian airports; and bring cargo plane and non-public transportation airport safety operations into parity with the regulations for commercial aircraft and airports.
Our nation’s freight rail system has existed for more than 150 years because it has historically been viewed – both by the federal government and the companies that operate on it – as a long-term asset that requires regular investments in order to continue its vitality. These regular investments have been made both by the federal government and freight railroads as part of an enduring long-term partnership. That partnership includes a duty on the railroads to provide rail service in a way that benefits this country.
In recognition of the freight railroads’ importance to the U.S. economy and the American people, Congress imposed a common carrier obligation on the railroads that requires railroads to “provide reasonable service for a reasonable rate upon a reasonable request from a shipper.” This common carrier obligation continues today in federal law and is a bedrock principle of our rail system. To enforce this obligation and ensure that the railroads were not engaging in unfair practices, Congress created in 1887 the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which was the first regulatory commission in the history of the United States. Today, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) is the modern successor to the ICC and is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the common carrier obligation of the railroads.
The federal infrastructure law made the largest-ever investment in passenger rail in America, paving the way for a historic expansion of passenger rail service in nearly every state. Now, as federal grants are available to every state to expand passenger rail service, it’s never been more urgent to require grant recipients to comply with laws that protect passenger rail workers who are adversely affected by the grants. Failure to do so could result in displacement of passenger rail workers when we need a robust workforce to meet this planned national expansion of service.
We call on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to close a long-standing loophole that allows recipients of federal passenger rail grants to displace workers’ jobs and wages with no recourse. This long overdue action would ensure that passenger rail workers do not lose their jobs because of federally-funded passenger rail projects and would bring these workers into parity with freight rail and public transit workers, who receive similar protections when their jobs or wages are displaced.