[Published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Let’s hope President Barack Obama’s Labor Day announcement to create jobs by investing in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure doesn’t meet the same fate as most proposals to fix our transportation system and jump-start the economy.
More than 400 bills passed by the House of Representatives have stalled or met their death at the hands of the Senate. The aviation bill, which funds air traffic control modernization, airport expansion and makes air travel safer, suffered this same fate when Congress went home for the summer without completing the long overdue overhaul of aviation laws. Expiring aviation programs have now been extended 15 times thanks to political gridlock.
Never mind outdated safety rules. Forget about the aging air traffic control system and long delays on the tarmac. Ignore the high jobless rate and the fact that the aviation bill would put hundreds of thousands to work. That is what a few senators decided for air travelers, aviation employees and unemployed Americans when they blocked this bill.
Lobbyists for FedEx and their allies in the Senate have made no secret that they will use every available obstructionist tactic to block the Senate from voting on the bill. Why? Because the final bill may force FedEx to play by the same rules as their competitors.
A correction, which passed two to one in the House aviation bill with bipartisan support, fixes a legal fiction that permits FedEx to classify its truck drivers and mechanics as aviation workers for purposes of labor law coverage. This legislation ensures that one company can’t game our laws at the expense of its competitors, most notably Atlanta-based UPS.
The flying public shouldn’t have to wait any longer for Congress to make air travel safer and more reliable.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s 88 million annual users bear the brunt of Congress’ inaction: Atlanta passengers have a one in four chance of departing or arriving late. And with traffic projected to soar about 50 percent nationally by 2020, Atlanta and our entire aviation system can’t handle that kind of growth. Airports are already operating at capacity, 1950s-era, radar-based air traffic control systems are still in use, Federal Aviation Administration staffing is failing to keep pace with projected demand, and passengers live with the consequences.
Needed safety reforms have been staring us in the face for years, and it’s time to get them done.
If sensibility prevails, this legislation would tighten up federal scrutiny of overseas maintenance facilities that don’t meet U.S. standards. It would end the exclusion of flight attendants from basic federal health and safety protections. And the air that passengers and crew breathe on planes would be safer and healthier.
Investment in our aviation infrastructure would also get a boost. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our aviation infrastructure a D grade. With this bill, we’ll build and improve runways, expand terminals and implement new technologies.
The president clearly knows that infrastructure investments create jobs. With double-digit unemployment in Georgia, these are the kinds of jobs that families need.
While Congress should pass the president’s Labor Day infrastructure investment plan, the comprehensive aviation bill is a ready-made jobs bill that can reach the president’s desk this month.
When lawmakers return to Washington, the Senate must have the chance to vote for the full aviation bill that creates 300,000 jobs and sustains millions more. Senators must vote on a bill that will expand our aviation infrastructure; invest in air traffic control modernization; update outdated safety laws and regulations; and address major FAA operational and labor-management issues.
Obstructionists have transformed the Senate into the place that most good ideas go to die. For the sake of the flying public, let’s hope that critical air safety reform and investment are not among them.
Edward Wytkind is the president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, which represents workers in 32 unions in aviation, rail, transit, trucking, highway, longshore, maritime and related industries.