[By Keith Laing of The Hill]
The largest collection of unions that represents transportation workers is urging President Obama to go big on their industries in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“The president has a chance tomorrow night to make the case for rebuilding our nation, beginning with the expansion of our depleted transportation system and infrastructure,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said in a statement.
Wytkind said he hoped Obama would also use his prime-time address to both chambers of Congress to defend the role of unions.
“We are also hopeful that during the President’s second term more Americans will be empowered to form and join unions and pursue their economic dreams through the power of collective bargaining,” Wytkind said. “Billions in transportation investments will put hundreds of thousands to work, and giving more of those workers collective bargaining rights on the job will provide them with a pathway to the middle class.
The transportation sector has featured some of the largest fights about labor issues in recent years. The bill that contains funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was held up for several years by a fight between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over union rules for airline workers.
Similarly, an effort by airplane manufacturer Boeing to open a plant in South Carolina to build its 787 airplanes became embroiled in controversy when labor leaders argued the decision was made in retaliation for votes by unionized workers in Washington state.Obama has used previous State of the Union speeches to push for broad expansions of infrastructure spending. He first rolled out his proposal for a national network of high-speed railways that conservatives later dubbed “ObamaRail” at an earlier State of the Union address.
However, in recent years, Obama has been reticent to tout specific proposals like the railways. Instead, Obama has focused on advocating for general infrastructure improvements like repairing existing roads and bridges, to the dismay of transportation supporters.
Wytkind argued Monday however that Obama has attempted to change the debate about transportation spending.
“On President Obama’s watch, rebuilding and modernizing our transportation network have been key ingredients of his Administration’s economic agenda,” he said. “There is no arguing that the debate has changed on the vital role of transportation in our economy because of the president’s leadership.”
Even as he said that, however, Wytkind called for Obama to leave the transportation generalities in the dust bin for this year’s State of the Union.
“Now is the time to advance a vision that includes a long-term plan to pay for these critically needed investments,” he said.
Obama is scheduled to give the State of the Union before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday at 9 p.m.