On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), I am pleased to respond to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Request for Information regarding Buy America Requirements for Construction Materials, De Minimis Costs, Small Grants, and Minor Components. TTD consists of 37 affiliate unions representing workers in construction and manufacturing who are directly impacted by Buy America policies. TTD endorses the comments submitted by our affiliate, the United Steelworkers (USW).
TTD credits the Biden administration for expanding and strengthening the reach and application of domestic content preferences, both in its support for the Build America, Buy America Act (BABA) in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and in executive actions such as Executive Order 14005, Ensuring the Future is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers, among others. We are appreciative of the DOT’s continued work to implement the BIL and prioritize BABA.
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.
For more than a decade, railroad workers’ hard-earned Railroad Unemployment and Sickness Insurance program benefits have been subject to indiscriminate and reckless cuts made by Congress in the 2013 budget sequestration. Railroaders are the only workers in the entire country whose unemployment insurance program is subject to these cuts. The unemployment insurance program often provides the only long-term sickness benefit that most rail workers get when they miss work for an extended period of time. As freight rail workers have spent the last three years negotiating with their employers over short-term sick leave, stagnant wages, and other important benefits, there is no excuse for the federal government to continue to arbitrarily suppress lifeline unemployment and sickness benefits. It’s long past time for Congress to act.
We implore Congress to pass the Railroad Employee Equity and Fairness Act, S.545/H.R.2900, to permanently restore these benefits by exempting the Railroad Unemployment Insurance program from budget sequestration.
In November 2021, President Biden’s promise to enact historic infrastructure investment legislation became a reality when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) became law. The $1.2 trillion bill was precisely the scale of investment that is long overdue in this country.
In addition to directing record levels of investment in infrastructure, the BIL also enshrined into law many of transportation labor’s key priorities, including strengthened worker protections that support high wages and safe jobs, and powerful domestic content requirements that now must be implemented.
Air traffic controllers keep our skies safe as they efficiently move thousands of aircraft every day throughout the National Airspace System (NAS). Their professional standards are rigorous: new hires undergo extensive training for at least 18 to 36 months depending on their facility assignment. Controllers worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and without their ongoing efforts, air travel could not have rebounded as quickly as we have seen in recent months.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, the total number of certified professional controllers (CPCs) and the total controller workforce (including those in training to be air traffic controllers) have not kept up with attrition. There are 1,000 fewer CPCs today than 10 years ago, and over 10 percent of the CPC workforce is eligible to retire. This has led to staffing shortages at certain facilities and some controllers working six days per week.
U.S. airlines are increasingly misusing visa programs to fill pilot positions by employing foreign nationals, displacing qualified prospective U.S. pilots, and undercutting U.S. pilot pay. Visa abuse began with regional carriers and has now spread to larger airlines, including Breeze, Frontier, and Southwest, among others. This is being done in defiance of the visa programs’ statutory authorities and attendant regulatory criteria.
In 2015, market pressures began to force U.S. regional airlines to increase pilot pay rates for the first time in a decade. Pilot pay at regional airlines had declined in real value for years and was insufficient in many cases to attract and retain pilots for those airlines. Rather than complying with the market wage, airlines began seeking certifications for pilot visas to employ pilots from outside the United States. Specifically, airlines sought to use H1-B visas to employ foreign nationals and E-3 visas to employ Australian nationals.
The Department of Transportation’s (DOT or Department) recent decision to remove a pro-labor clause from a joint venture agreement between Delta Air Lines and LATAM Airlines Group is an unprecedented decision that represents a step backward for U.S. airline employees in antitrust-immunized joint venture (ATI JV) cases. This decision continues decades of elevating consumer benefits over employee rights by the Department. The DOT’s decision is also completely inconsistent with the Biden Administration’s otherwise extraordinary record on labor matters, including the Administration’s stated policy objectives for workers potentially harmed by globalization. An appropriate remedy, at a minimum, requires the Department in future decisions to place conditions to ensure U.S. employees receive a fair share of flying covered by joint venture arrangements, affirmatively make use of its public interest objectives regarding employees in relevant licensing decisions, and rewrite of the Department’s outdated international policy statement.
The emerging offshore wind industry in the United States provides significant opportunities to expand the domestic workforce in the maritime and building trades sectors to create good-paying union jobs while increasing our nation’s clean energy supply chains. During President Biden’s first week in office, his Administration announced an Executive Order of a national goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, which would generate enough power for more than 10 million American homes annually and lower CO2 emissions to alleviate the climate crisis. While addressing this goal, Congress and the Administration must adopt policies that support long-term investments in a domestic workforce, including building, manufacturing, crewing, and maintaining offshore wind vessels that benefit American workers and keep the U.S. maritime industry thriving.
Employees in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO) are the backbone of the nation’s air traffic control system. The Technical Operations workforce maintains the critical navigation, communications, and radar equipment that controllers and pilots need. Even as the country went into lockdown in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, airway transportation systems specialists in Technical Operations remained on the job along with thousands of their FAA colleagues. These employees are represented by the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, AFL-CIO (PASS).