On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and the totality of rail labor as represented by our affiliated unions, I write in support of the sentiments raised by the National Grain and Feed Association’s (NGFA) March 24th letter to the Board. NGFA describes service disruptions its members are facing on the Union Pacific (UP), Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and Norfolk Southern (NS), in both picking up and delivering grain and feed products. As NGFA discusses, this presents not only financial challenges for its members, but ultimately threatens the ability of the nation’s farmers to feed their livestock. The notion that our nation’s food supply chain is threatened by the continued negligence and intransigence of the railroad industry is both stunning and unacceptable.
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), I am pleased to respond to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) notice regarding the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council’s request for comments. TTD consists of 37 affiliate unions representing workers across all modes of transportation. Those unions, and the millions of workers they represent, bring a critical perspective to the questions put forward in this notice.
As you know, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) tasked the NETT Council with resolving jurisdictional and regulatory gaps or inconsistencies associated with nontraditional and emerging transportation technologies and coordinating DOT’s response to nontraditional and emerging transportation technology projects. While TTD supports an agency-wide approach to evaluating the regulatory challenges presented by new and emerging technologies, the agency’s success in meeting these challenges will hinge squarely on the direct involvement of labor unions. History has proven that strong unions and worker engagement are essential to mitigate the harms inherent in rapid technological changes to industries, and this is particularly true in the transportation sector, which has enjoyed relatively strong union density over the past century.
For years, fatigue has persisted as one of the single greatest threats to railroad safety. An inability to concentrate, decreased situational awareness, and reduced reaction times when tasked with the operation of freight trains — including those carrying explosive, radioactive, and flammable cargoes — can turn deadly with a moment’s notice. Despite this, Class I railroads have continued to pursue abusive and punitive attendance policies that push employees past their physical limits, forcing them to choose between their livelihoods and performing their jobs safely. Union Pacific’s recent adoption of a draconian attendance policy followed by BNSF’s adoption and deployment of its “Hi-Viz” policy are the most recent and egregious entries into this race to the bottom. BNSF’s Hi-Viz, and other policies like it are not compatible with safe railroad operations, and it is essential that their existence does not persist.
Since President Biden assumed office a little more than a year ago, the Biden administration has taken several actions to review and address current U.S. supply chain disruptions caused in large measure by a global pandemic and compounded by years of failure on the part of our government to develop and implement a realistic national maritime policy. As the federal government and the commercial maritime industries work to build a more resilient supply chain, TTD urges Congress and the administration to implement a national maritime strategy that includes, among other things, core policies that increase the size of our U.S.-flag fleet and the amount of America’s trade carried by U.S.-flag ships, enhance and strengthen U.S.-flag cargo preference laws, fully fund the maritime and tanker security programs, and categorically reject flag-of-convenience and open registry schemes.
Since the start of the pandemic, news reports, lawmakers, and employers have referred to a so-called “labor shortage” as the cause of disruptions to our economy. Such rhetoric predates the pandemic by years and has particularly been used by employers looking to undermine safety or labor standards by claiming a lack of available workers creates an emergency of one kind or another. The pandemic, along with the resulting supply chain challenges, has only increased the focus on and the frequency of those claims. The truth is that, across our economy, long-standing corporate practices have eroded the pay, benefits, health and safety protections, workplace conditions, and quality of life for millions of working Americans and created strong disincentives for workers to remain with their current employer. The real shortage policymakers should be concerned with is the shortage of quality jobs with good pay and benefits in many of our industries.
Aircraft dispatchers play an essential role in the safety of aviation operations. In tandem with pilots and air traffic controllers, dispatchers work to ensure that aircraft take off and land safely, navigating weather, traffic, and other challenges. For this reason, the parameters of their work and working environment are highly regulated, to ensure that a dispatcher is able to carry out their duties to the highest standard.
Transportation labor unions have fought for decades to ensure that federal investments made in America’s transportation infrastructure are tied to strong policies that support and create good jobs and safe and equitable workplaces for America’s workers. We have also fought year after year to keep policies in place that ensured federal investments would never undermine the rights of workers and the value of their labor. Because of policies like prevailing wage, transit labor protections, rail employee protections, Buy America(n) and other domestic content provisions, and the Jones Act, millions of working families have enjoyed middle class incomes and benefits that allowed them to build stability and opportunity for their families. TTD is, and always will be, proud of this work.
As we approach the halfway point of President Biden’s first term in office, transportation labor calls on the administration to continue prioritizing an ambitious regulatory agenda that delivers improved safety, creates good union jobs, and drives economic development. This includes promulgating regulations required by unmet mandates that have languished for years without appropriate attention, new regulatory requirements enacted by the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and forward-thinking proposals that address the safety and economic conditions of today’s transportation network.
In the wake of the Boeing 737 Max accidents, Congress and aviation safety officials rightly recognized that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had ceded far too much of its own regulating authority to private interests. The reforms that are still being implemented by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA should ensure that proper regulatory authority is in place to greater improve aviation safety and prevent any future catastrophes and loss of life. This mindset, however, needs to extend to every aspect of aviation safety. For 20 years, TTD and its affiliated unions have been calling for greater oversight of FAA-certified foreign contract repair stations that perform work on U.S. aircraft. Despite several legislative victories that require the FAA to promulgate rules governing these foreign repair stations, we have yet to see meaningful progress or reforms to ensure that the work being done in these stations meets the standards that we set here at home. President Biden has publicly and definitively called for action on this issue and it is past time for Congress and the FAA to rectify this problem though both legislative and regulatory action.
In an era of unprecedented instances of violent and unruly passengers, alongside the evergreen threat of terrorism and other dangers in the skies, it is clearer than ever that flight attendants and pilots must be given the necessary tools to best protect both themselves and the traveling public. In order to address both the current spike in violence as well as unacceptable and dangerous behavior that has existed since long before the pandemic, Congress must take action.