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Transit Unions Announce five key policies to protect, promote workers as U.S. moves to zero-emission vehicles

Washington, DC—Today, the leaders of the unions representing America’s public transit workforce and the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), laid out five key policies Congress and the federal government must follow as the U.S. seeks to reduce its carbon footprint by transitioning to zero-emission vehicles, including battery-electric buses. The policies come on the heels of a global climate summit and promises made by President Biden to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

The policies outlined by labor leaders ensure that the adoption and use of greener vehicles does not come at the expense of protecting the needs of the public transit workers who will be working alongside, operating, and maintaining these new and emerging technologies—needs that transit union leaders say, so far, have largely been left out of policy discussions.

“As labor union leaders, we recognize the serious impacts from climate change and the severe consequences we face if we fail to reduce our carbon footprint,” said TTD President Greg Regan. “As with automation, however, discussions around the transition to greener vehicles too often focus solely on new technologies and fail to consider the impact changes will have on workers and the communities in which they live. By following the steps we have outlined today, policymakers can begin having more inclusive and pragmatic conversations, and ensure public transit workers have a seat at the table.”

The five key policies include:

  1. Federally mandated rules and regulations that assess workforce impacts and labor standards, promote union membership and collective bargaining by transit workers, create career ladders and apprenticeship programs for transit workers, and ensure the manufacture and development of new technologies is done within the U.S., and that new jobs created come with union protections;
  2. Required compliance with the aforementioned rules by private contractors;
  3. Required workforce and community impact assessments in all zero-emission vehicle procurements;
  4. The establishment of a national frontline workforce training center; and
  5. An assurance that workers are represented on technology and climate change taskforces, advisory councils, and other committees.

If policymakers fail to adopt these worker-first principles, transit union leaders warn of severe workforce impacts that could affect and disrupt entire transit systems. By way of example, transit union leaders point to one major U.S. transit agency where estimates show only 15% of bus mechanics are trained in using a voltmeter, a basic diagnostic tool for electric engines. This represents a serious failing of our national policy to prepare and upskill America’s workers for the next generation of vehicles.

“Zero-emission buses, trains, and school buses can play a key role in fighting climate change. However, years of underinvestment and lack of policies on training programs for transit workers has been an underlying problem in this industry.  The ATU has already been working with transit agencies to develop innovative Zero Emission Bus (ZEB) training and apprenticeship programs in San Jose and other communities to ensure our members’ jobs and that they are prepared to safely operate and maintain this new technology,” said Amalgamated Transit Union International President John Costa. “However, if policymakers do not invest in these workforce training programs now, transit agencies are likely to contract out this work leading to significant job loss and degradation in work and service.”

“The TWU’s guiding principle for implementing new technology is ‘Workers First.’ Washington, D.C. must ensure a just transition for all transport workers. Greening the economy and implementing new technology can be win-win across the board, but only when workers are proactively protected,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen.