[As published By Haya El Nasser in Al Jazeera America]
LOS ANGELES — When shiny new light-rail cars roll out on L.A. Metro tracks in two years, they will likely have been made by a Japanese company. But most of the workers who assemble them will be American.
In Chicago, a $2 billion railcar contract will be won partly on the basis of job creation in the U.S.
And an estimated $3 billion Amtrak contract to manufacture high-speed trains now also evaluates bidders on their hiring of Americans, investment in U.S. factories, employee training and the hiring of disadvantaged workers, such as veterans.
There is about $5.4 billion in transportation spending in the pipeline in the U.S. each year over the next decade, and a new national coalition is leveraging these taxpayer dollars to generate jobs in the U.S.
Jobs to Move America, the brainchild of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), is garnering support across the nation. Community, faith, labor and civil rights leaders have joined forces with academic, philanthropic and environmental groups to push companies competing for lucrative transportation contracts to put some of that money back in the U.S. economy.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, which provides funding to most transportation projects, has stopped short of endorsing the coalition’s U.S. employment plan. But the federal agency is working with transit agencies that want to use it, on a case-by-case basis. It has approved taking the plan into account when awarding bids for contracts with the Los Angeles Metro, Amtrak, the Chicago Transit Authority and the Maryland Department of Transportation.
“Our goal with this is to change the way leaders think about procurement,” said coalition member Ed Wytkind, president of the transportation trades department of the AFL-CIO. Thirty-two transportation union presidents unanimously voted to endorse the plan last year.
“We reward bad employers who don’t pay living wages, who outsource most of their work overseas, who do not provide decent benefits, worker training. This is an opportunity to finally see procurement reward good employers,” said Wytkind. “This is a no-brainer.”
In the past, many U.S. transit agencies awarded publicly funded contracts to the lowest bidders among global manufacturers, with little consideration of long-term effects on the U.S. economy. Companies manufactured significant portions of America’s buses and trains abroad.
In Los Angeles County, the Metro needed railcars to expand lines to Santa Monica and Azusa. The transit agency worked with LAANE to add a U.S. employment provision to the contract, awarded more than two years ago to Japanese manufacturer Kinkisharyo.
“This had never been done before,” said Rachele Huennekens, a spokeswoman with LAANE.
The company is building 175 railcars for $739 million. Metro has an option to buy 60 more. “Nobody in the U.S. makes railcars,” said Paul Gonzales, Metro’s senior communications officer. “Basically, there are three places to buy them from” — Germany’s Siemens, Italy’s AnsaldoBreda and Japan’s Kinkisharyo International.
Kinkisharyo, the U.S. subsidiary of the Kinki Sharyo Co. in Osaka, Japan, won the bid. It not only agreed to do some of the manufacturing in Palmdale, California, but also moved its U.S. headquarters from Massachusetts to El Segundo, in Los Angeles County.