America’s ports and harbors are a core driver of domestic and international trade, generating $5.6 trillion dollars in economic activity — approximately a quarter of the entire U.S. economy. The operation of ports and the vessels that call at them directly generate thousands of jobs in the longshore, maritime, dredging, shipbuilding and freight transportation industries, and an untold number of jobs indirectly throughout the supply chain. Despite this, ports and harbors are frequently left out of the infrastructure conversation, and have been historically underserved by federal initiatives.
The technological achievements that enable modern transportation are often stunning in scope and vision. High-speed trains, electric buses, and intricate transit systems give Americans mobility options that would have been unthinkable just a few generations before. Of course, nothing has shrunk the world as dramatically as modern air travel. Yet, even if we stop to marvel at our collective ability to board a metal tube and fly off to the farthest corners of the earth in mere hours, we too often take for granted some of the more basic advancements that allow for commercial air travel.
On June 5th of this year, we will celebrate the centennial of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as the Jones Act. Principally, the Act ensures that domestic waterborne commerce is conducted by U.S. built ships crewed with qualified U.S mariners. It is rare that any piece of legislation stands as the bedrock of an industry for so long – the Jones Act was passed just a few months after Prohibition, and 15 years before the creation of Social Security. Yet its continued endurance is a testimony to its unparalleled importance to the domestic sectors it supports. Today, it has never been clearer why the Jones Act is necessary and why policy makers’ long-held support for it must not waver.
Whether moving freight across America’s heartland or safely transporting people on intercity passenger or commuter rail, the skilled workers who operate and maintain our national rail system have played a vital role in moving our nation’s economy for decades. Throughout the 20th century, the federal government enacted a series of laws that recognize the importance of rail to our country and addressed the unique needs of a workforce that performs difficult and often dangerous jobs. One such law, enacted in 1937, created the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which specifically addressed the post-career needs of railroad workers after decades of a haphazard private pension system. Wholly funded by railroad workers and the nation’s railroads, RRB benefits play an important role in the lives of current and retired railroad workers and their families. Today, however, the agency is facing a crisis, as staffing shortages and insufficient resources have severely degraded service at a time when rail workers and their families need it most.
Over six years ago this Executive Committee called upon Congress and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to grant full federal employee rights to the 45,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) who keep our nation’s airways, mass transit systems and large public gatherings safe and secure. Unfortunately, our call to action has gone unheeded and the intervening years have strengthened our resolve to give these workers the rights they deserve. With the longest ever government shutdown, massive turnover, and the lowest employee morale in the federal workforce, policy makers are letting TSOs down. Now is the time to correct the injustice against the workers who play such a vital role protecting travelers and transportation workers alike.
Approximately 400,000 Americans work in the public transportation sector. Of those, 90 percent serve in frontline occupations that include bus and rail transit operators, station employees, mechanics, and other non-management positions. Yet, federal policy has failed to support the training needs of the frontline transit workforce, risking major workforce shortages and skill gaps in the coming years.
The automotive industry has long been a cornerstone of American manufacturing jobs. Nearly one million people work in the auto and auto-parts manufacturing sectors, and when jobs from other linked industries are included, the auto industry is responsible for over seven million jobs nationwide. Yet, over the past fifteen years, automotive production workers’ wages have fallen significantly here at home. In fact, when adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings for production workers in auto assembly have declined 23 percent, while wages in the auto parts sector have declined 22 percent.
Every other day, someone loses his or her life at one of the nation’s 211,000 grade crossings – another 840 are injured and the FRA reports a total of over 2,000 collisions. These accidents and fatalities have devastating and long-lasting consequences for victims, their families, and front-line rail workers who know that more can be […]
Proponents of “free trade” have long argued that the lowering of trade barriers between nations sparks economic growth by providing cheaper goods for consumers at home and opening new markets for U.S. products abroad. However, those of us in the labor movement have long understood that the realities of free trade rarely live up to the promise. The decks are too often stacked against U.S. workers, and free trade agreements too often allow multi-national corporations to exploit workers throughout the world—all in search of increased profits. Furthermore, the “protections” built into agreements are so rarely enforced as to render them meaningless.
Our nation’s early history and sustained economic growth are intertwined with the use of waterborne transportation to move goods and people to both key population centers and rural communities. Yet today, domestic maritime services are significantly underutilized even as our surface transportation network struggles to keep up with demand and as the U.S. maritime and shipbuilding industries seek out new commercial opportunities. By supporting the deployment of a short sea shipping industry—the use of commercial vessels for the carriage of commodities along American’s seacoasts and inland waterways—we can create good U.S. jobs, enhance sound environmental and energy policies and relieve congestion on existing highways. All with minimal cost to the federal taxpayers.
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