September 27, 2023
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO, and the millions of transportation workers that we represent, we urge you to pass the Senate-proposed bipartisan continuing resolution, H.R. 3935, and avert a government shutdown. As America’s largest transportation labor federation, we implore Congress to prioritize the safety of our transportation systems, workers, and passengers over short-term political games.
A government shutdown would reduce federal safety oversight, strain airport security, delay much-needed infrastructure and planning projects, and furlough thousands of hard-working public servants. To be clear: transportation systems and federal workers are not the only ones who will be affected by a shutdown. A shutdown affects the entire country and your constituents will also suffer the consequences as the public transit, passenger rail, and aviation systems they rely on are thrown into havoc.
In the event of a shutdown, air travelers would face significant delays as tens of thousands of aviation workers would be furloughed – and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would suspend all hiring and training for technicians and air traffic controllers (ATCs) just as we are making progress in tackling the ATC staffing shortage. Training for technicians who certify and maintain critical aviation systems was severely curtailed during the pandemic and a shutdown would derail that training again. Not to mention, the lapse of FAA authorization coupled with a government shutdown would be detrimental. During the lapse in FAA authorization in 2011, the lost revenue from taxes and user fees was over $30 million a day.
The Federal Railroad Administration would halt many rulemakings, including those focused on rail safety in the aftermath of the toxic East Palestine train derailment. Our railways would still be dutifully monitored by railroad safety inspectors, but they would work without pay. Likewise, nearly 5,000 federal civilian firefighters and government-contracted firefighters and first responders would be required to work their normal shifts without pay.
Civilian-trained mariners, who maintain and operate oceanic research vessels under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and mariners on dredging and survey vessels under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may be called away from their work or required to sail without pay. Additionally, operations of various Coast Guard offices would be affected, including those relating to mariner credentialing and vessel documentation.
As transit systems are still rebounding to pre-pandemic ridership levels, WMATA in our nation’s capital would suffer the loss of federal workers who use the system to get to and from work. And the Department of Transportation would be forced to furlough nearly 19,000 employees. USDOT would find it difficult to execute grant awards for billions in critical IIJA federal grant funding that has already been appropriated by Congress for numerous time-sensitive, shovel-ready infrastructure projects that will create thousands of good-paying jobs across the country. Overall, there will be a far-ranging impact deleterious to the various supply chain functions in our transportation network.
Unfortunately, we know all too well the effects of a federal government shutdown on transportation systems. For 35 days in late 2018 and early 2019, Congress tested the limits of a partial government shutdown. Even though it was a partial shutdown, 800,000 federal workers went five weeks without pay. The Federal Aviation Administration furloughed over 30% of its workforce. Aviation safety inspectors were furloughed and then eventually recalled to work without pay. While they were off the job, oversight of commercial and general aviation aircraft, pilots, flight instructors, and domestic and foreign repair stations; in-flight cockpit inspections or ramp inspections did not occur. Over 10,400 fully certified air traffic controllers worked without pay, including mandatory 6-day workweeks and 10-hour days, and more than 4,000 FAA technicians, and over 45,000 Transportation Security Officers worked unpaid as well. The crisis caused thousands of security officers to take unscheduled leave or quit their jobs, which resulted in understaffing at busy TSA airport security checkpoints. After the dust settled, business leaders and union leaders alike agreed that the shutdown was unnecessary and detrimental to the aviation industry. Every day the government was shut down, a layer of safety was removed from the nation’s air traffic control system.
Once again, we find ourselves staring down a manufactured crisis—one where ordinary people who chose a career in public service will see their lives upended by a sudden furlough without pay, by being called in to work without pay, or by the degradation of safety and services of the industry they work in. The livelihoods of the dedicated public sector workers represented by many of our affiliated unions should not be treated as bargaining chips by extremists in Congress. Furthermore, many who work to support the federal government are not direct employees but rather contract workers who do not receive any back-pay after a shutdown ends. For example, there are tens of thousands of workers who manufacture, service and maintain facilities for military aircraft. In addition, thousands of workers are employed as contractors to clean, secure or provide food service in federal office buildings, courthouses, airports, military bases, and more. Women and people of color comprise a larger proportion of the low-wage service workforce and are more likely to experience layoffs and have the least financial resources to cope with a loss of income. The shutdown exacerbates injustice as it primarily affects vulnerable populations. Therefore, if we do suffer an unnecessary government shutdown, we urge Congress to ensure back-pay for contractors, in addition to federal employees, once the crisis is solved.
Now, as Congress confronts the potential for another government shutdown, we are faced with many of the same consequences. We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: Federal government shutdowns should never happen. Failing to act sooner and cavalierly approaching a deadline that holds such real and lasting consequences for ordinary workers and consumers with no plan in sight is no way to govern. We urge you to act now to ensure the continued funding of the federal government and prevent a government shutdown.