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Building a Strong and Equitable Transportation Workforce

By Admin

Transportation labor unions have fought for decades to ensure that federal investments made in America’s transportation infrastructure are tied to strong policies that support and create good jobs and safe and equitable workplaces for America’s workers. We have also fought year after year to keep policies in place that ensured federal investments would never undermine the rights of workers and the value of their labor. Because of policies like prevailing wage, transit labor protections, rail employee protections, Buy America(n) and other domestic content provisions, and the Jones Act, millions of working families have enjoyed middle class incomes and benefits that allowed them to build stability and opportunity for their families. TTD is, and always will be, proud of this work.

However, women, people of color, and other marginalized populations have historically been, and remain, underrepresented in many professions within the transportation workforce. Because of high union density in the transportation sector[1], there is immense opportunity to deploy federal funding and pro-worker policies in ways that lift up women, workers of color, and other underrepresented populations while narrowing racial and economic inequities.

To be sure, solving these historical and continued disparities in our workforce and improving economic and quality of life outcomes for women, people of color, and other underrepresented populations will not happen on its own. It requires intentional policies and practices to guarantee change. There is no doubt among our unions that employers, the federal government, and our organizations can and should do more to recruit and retain a diversified workforce and to remove structural barriers that stand between workers across America and good, middle-class jobs.

For our part, transportation labor is working aggressively to recruit, train, and retain workers from underrepresented populations, but we need strong leadership from the federal government to build the expanded and diversified workforce necessary to meet the nation’s growing transportation and infrastructure needs. TTD stands firmly in support of the principles of solidarity and equity, and we believe that the path laid forward by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the whole-of-government approach to growing union jobs and meeting our shared equity goals is a path to success for changing the economic realities for millions of workers who have been excluded from the middle-class for too long due to racism, sexism, and other unacceptable factors.

The union difference – good union jobs are the path to economic equality

While unions and strong collective bargaining agreements help to lift up the wages, job stability, and safety of all workers, the union difference is especially pronounced for people of color.

  • A Center for American Progress analysis of the Survey of Consumer Finances found that between 2010 and 2016, nonwhite families who belonged to a union held nearly five times the wealth of their nonunion counterparts.[2]
  • Black workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement earn 13.1% more in wages than Black workers who aren’t covered, while the boost to workers overall is 10.2%[3]
  • Similarly, Hispanic and Latino workers under collective bargaining agreements earn 18.8% more than their nonunion counterparts.[4]
  • Women also receive more pronounced compensation benefits from unionism. Unionized women working full time earn 24% more per week than their nonunion counterparts.[5]

Union membership not only provides higher wages, it also widens access to job protections and benefits that help workers of color gain solid footing financially.

  • The chance of having a 401(k) plan is about 50% greater for nonwhite union members than for other nonwhite workers.[6]
  • A 2016 Center for Economic and Policy Research analysis found that Black union workers are 17.4% more likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance than non-union Black workers.[7]

Union contracts also protect workers from discrimination in their workplace.

  • A National Employment Law Project paper reported that workers of color are disproportionately harmed by at-will employment policies, experiencing higher rates of job separations[8] and reporting greater fear of retaliation if they were to take sick leave or request a schedule change.[9]
  • The just cause and due process provisions of a union contract can help insulate workers of color from racially-driven arbitrary dismissal and protect their voice on the job.

Union jobs provide an undeniable pathway to greater financial stability — standardizing wages across groups, extending job stability, and providing health and savings benefits that help workers build nest eggs for their families. The compounded benefits of union jobs for women and people of color can clearly be leveraged to advance equitable outcomes.

It is also important to understand that union membership doesn’t just benefit union workers. Numerous studies have shown that union density in industries and communities directly correlates with the wages of non-union members in those same industries and communities.[10] Union membership — particularly through public sector unions — notably helped drive the growth of middle class Black communities where workers enjoyed fair wages, good benefits, and a pension, which in turn drove economic growth in their communities.[11] A shameful history of undermining those workers through racist policies like so-called “right to work” through the mid-20th century and onward to today ripped holes in the economic fabric of those communities.

Unions are working hard to ensure the benefits of unionism are broadly shared

During the historic industrialization of America, there is no denying that women, workers of color, and others within marginalized populations were, too often, shut out of access to union membership and the accompanying wages and benefits in the transportation, manufacturing, and construction industries. While many unions stood with civil rights protesters, others failed to take on segregation, discrimination, and harassment. Even following the civil rights era, labor unions themselves were not free of internal discrimination[12]. But the modern labor movement is united in the belief that there is no worker solidarity without racial and gender solidarity. Divisions among workers only serve those who seek to undermine them, and unions know that workers of all backgrounds must stand together to assert their power and advance equality in all its forms.

Today’s labor movement is more inclusive than it has ever been. It is shaped by the leadership of people of color and women, who over the last 60 years transformed the movement to make it better and improve the lives of all workers. Today, the President of the AFL-CIO is a woman, the Secretary-Treasurer is a Black man. Today’s labor movement is poised to build on a legacy of diverse leadership. As stated clearly by AFL-CIO President Shuler, “The labor movement can be the most powerful vehicle for progress in our country — only if we are joined together, the most diverse and inclusive movement in history.”[13]

  • For decades, Black workers have been more likely than any other group to be members of a union. In particular, for instance, a Black woman is as likely to be a member of a union as is a white man.[14]
  • Between 1983 and 2008, women’s share of unionized workers grew from 35% to 45%. Over the same period, Hispanic and Latino workers’ share increased from 5.8% to 12.2%.[15]
  • In 1994, 8.4% of union workers were immigrants, but by 2008 that share rose to 12.6%.

These trends show a steadily diversifying labor movement over time. Moreover, researchers have found that despite the rise of repulsive and worrisome White identity politics in our national dialogue in recent years, union membership reduces racial resentment and fosters support for policies that benefit people of color.[16] As grassroots community institutions, unions play a powerful role in shaping political and social attitudes and behavior, and that responsibility is not taken lightly by transportation labor.

We know it is our shared responsibility to reach out to workers of color, women, immigrants, and individuals with disabilities, and support them in joining our ranks. To that end, transportation labor has worked diligently to recruit, train, and maintain a more diverse workforce through apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs along with other targeted recruitment efforts.

  • In Oregon, LIUNA Local 737 partners with Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship training program to prepare female students and provide direct access to the Oregon Laborers Apprenticeship to become Construction Craft Laborers.[17]
  • In New York City, SMART Local 28 has increased its percentage of female workers from 3% in 2011 to 13% in 2019.[18] That union developed and implemented a “Respect for Workforce Diversity” training curriculum that teaches apprentices ways to recognize and prevent racial and gender discrimination and bias in the workplace, paving the way for a safer and more equitable working environment for women and people of color.
  • After Outi Hicks, a young union apprentice carpenter and single mother, was bludgeoned to death by a nonunion part-time male worker on a job site, women in the construction industry felt shaken to their core. Ironworkers General Organizer Vicki O’Leary developed the “Be That One Guy” campaign, a workplace bystander intervention training that teaches workers to stand up for co-workers being harassed and de-escalate tense confrontations on the job site.[19] The Ironworkers union rolled out this training to 130,000 union members across the country.
  • While the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) has counted women among its members since 1911, it instituted the Leadership Excellence Assembly of Dedicated Sisters (LEADS) program to mentor IAM women and offer them new pathways to leadership within the union.[20]
  • In Illinois, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 134 has participated in several community outreach programs in order to attract young people, who have been historically underrepresented in the trades, including founding the 134 Jump Start program that is designed to prepare applicants to take the Electrical Unions Apprenticeship Test.[21]
  • In New York City, through its collectively-bargained upgrade fund, the Transport Workers

Union (TWU) Local 100’s NYCTA Training and Upgrading Fund (TUF) works to offer access and opportunity for lower-skilled incumbent NYCT employees, virtually all from communities of color, to move into higher-skilled and significantly higher paying frontline careers. The program offers a range of supports, including a child care fund, while people attend the paid nine-month program.[22]

Transportation labor believes that everyone deserves access to high-quality union jobs, and that the inclusion of women, workers of color, and individuals from underserved communities will be necessary to build the skilled and effective workforce needed to build, operate, maintain, and service our country’s transportation systems and infrastructure. That’s why we have worked for years to advance policies at the federal level that break down barriers to entry for skilled trades and why we have united to foster workplace cultures that reinforce the dignity of all workers

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides a powerful opportunity to knit together worker advancement and equity goals

As the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is implemented, nearly 500,000 jobs will be created in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors annually over the next 10 years.[23] Because of the strong labor standards attached to federal investments in the IIJA, many of these jobs are guaranteed to be good union jobs, providing immediate economic and quality of life benefits to millions of workers across America over the coming decade.

We also know that many workers of color are already well positioned to gain from the opportunity created by these investments.

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey, Black workers held a higher share of transportation and equipment manufacturing jobs than their share of total workers, and Hispanic and Latino workers are strongly represented in the construction industry.
  • Foreign-born workers made up 24.7% of the construction workforce in 2015, the majority of whom were born in Latin American countries.[24]
  • Black workers hold 20.4% of rail transportation jobs, 32.6% of transit jobs, and 22.4% of warehousing and storage jobs. Hispanic and Latino workers also hold a disproportionate amount of jobs in the transportation and warehousing sector, about 21.2%.[25]

Still, we know that employers, government, and transportation labor unions must do more to recruit women and workers of color, train them for high quality jobs, and implement policies that reinforce the dignity of their work and grant access to benefits that help build wealth.

A key step taken by Congress in the IIJA to support unions as they work to build a more inclusive workforce was overturning the long-standing ban on local hire preferences for DOT-funded construction projects.[26] Local hire programs, which create good jobs for workers in the communities in which projects are built, were effectively banned for federally-funded projects in the 1980s, and have remained a barrier to equitable job creation.

TTD and many of our unions joined a letter in March 2021 that outlines our support for overturning the ban on local hire, which will ensure job opportunities are extended to underrepresented groups.[27] Moreover, the IIJA requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Labor (DOL) to study means to increase the diversity of the transportation workforce, including examining the use of pre-apprenticeship programs and targeted hiring preferences for groups who are traditionally underrepresented in the infrastructure workforce, and will require that the Secretary use the results of the study to provide a model plan for states, local governments, and private entities to increase diversity within the transportation workforce. DOT has already used this language to rescind their local hire pilot programs and issue guidance to states and localities that they are now allowed to hire locally on DOT-funded construction projects, without needing federal permission.

The IIJA also strengthens many existing labor protections that will help grow overall union membership in this country. Through the strengthening of domestic content requirements, the application of prevailing wage requirements to new transportation grant and formula funding programs, historic investments for frontline transit workforce training, and a host of other key transportation labor supported policy provisions, IIJA will ensure that the new jobs created by this bill are safe and provide good benefits, will drive domestic manufacturing, and will provide better access for all members of our communities to join unions.

An expanded, well-trained, well-compensated, and diverse workforce will be absolutely necessary to operate, maintain, build, and service a safe and effective transportation network. We simply cannot afford to leave any potential workers on the sidelines. That’s why infrastructure investments must be paired with pro-equity and pro-worker policies — like those taken by this administration, as detailed below — that work in tandem to develop a diverse and secure transportation workforce.

The Biden administration has set a new standard for federal partnership in our shared goals of advancing worker power and equity

Labor unions cannot accomplish these goals on our own. We count on the strong partnership of the federal government to ensure federal investments are tied to the growth of good union jobs and the creation of a more diverse workforce. President Biden and Vice President Harris have set a new standard for how the federal government can be a true partner, both in creating new, good union jobs and addressing economic inequalities that for too long have been suffered by women, people of color, and other marginalized populations.

One year ago, President Biden laid the groundwork for accomplishing this goal by issuing the Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government, launching a whole-of-government approach to “advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”[28] In accordance with the Executive Order and the deeply held values of President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Secretary Buttigieg, DOT has worked to examine the issue of transportation equity and develop a comprehensive approach to advance racial equity and economic inclusivity.

Since then, this administration has taken clear steps to put these goals into action.

Increasing union membership and union jobs to transform economic inequality

The increased wages, job stability, and health and savings benefits unions bring to workers means that expanding union membership and creating new high-quality union jobs would deliver immediate results in lifting up working families, full stop. President Biden convened the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment because he knows that supporting workers’ free and fair choice to form and join a union is crucial to building the middle class, balancing our economy to benefit workers, and strengthening our democracy. TTD is pleased to see the administration take a comprehensive approach to worker empowerment by both acting on existing authorities and modeling practices as an employer that can be followed at all levels of government and private industry. The Task Force’s recommendations to incorporate labor standards into transportation discretionary grant programs, promote apprenticeships, and make sure taxpayer dollars are spent on American-made goods will lift up workers and strengthen our economy.

TTD also strongly supports President Biden’s recent Executive Order on Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects. Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) engage union workers; standardize wages across gender, racial, and ethnic groups; and provide avenues for dispute resolution. PLAs are also an effective tool for ensuring a diverse workforce that benefits the communities where infrastructure projects are built. The Cornell School for Industrial and Labor Relations concluded in a 2011 study that PLAs and Community Workforce Agreements (CWAs) have mechanisms for accountability and compliance that better ensure equity goals are met, and provide a valuable framework for pursuing various pro-worker and pro-equity policies.[29] If PLAs/CWAs contain provisions requiring the hiring of local workers, recruitment of targeted underserved populations, and partnerships with apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, they can effectively extend good jobs and valuable training to workers of color, women, and other marginalized workers who otherwise struggle to access well-paying jobs in the construction industry.

Ensuring IIJA funds grow good union jobs and lead to a more inclusive workforce

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s once-in-a-generation investment in our transportation infrastructure presents a can’t-miss opportunity to drive the creation of good union jobs and equitable opportunities for the workers in our industries. This opportunity has not been overlooked by the Biden administration. In President Biden’s Executive Order on IIJA Implementation, he directed agencies to improve job opportunities by prioritizing high labor standards and the free and fair choice to join a union, and to invest public dollars equitably. With this Executive Order, the president set a standard supported by our unions that the federal government can and must use its influence and resources to not only deliver on the promise of good jobs in the IIJA thanks to strong labor protections, but also to use implementation of the IIJA as a means to further advance the public good for not just some, but all workers.

This approach to equity and high-quality job creation is laid out clearly in DOT’s notices of funding opportunity for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant program, Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP), America’s Marine Highway Program, the Low-No and the Buses and Bus Facilities Program, and the combined Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant Opportunity. These funding opportunities place a premium on projects that work to advance equity and inclusion, enforce high labor standards, and solicit participation from workers that live in the communities the projects seek to serve.

DOT can further encourage equity in federal funding opportunities by encouraging projects to use the U.S. Employment Plan, which is a DOT-approved program that incentivizes companies competing for contracts to create and retain quality jobs with living wages and benefits, hire disadvantaged workers, and partner with workforce development and union apprenticeship programs.

Additionally, when the DOT develops its model plan for local and targeted hire, it should be sure to include community groups, union partners, and other local stakeholders in the development of the Workforce Diversity Report and model plans, to ensure on-the-ground experts can provide concrete steps that states and cities can take to diversify their workforces and connect local workers to good-paying jobs. DOT should emphasize the importance of local hire best practices, like apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, which have successfully built pathways to good jobs and long-term careers for local residents on past local hire projects. DOT should also study and take inspiration from successful local hire models when creating the model plans, like in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City.

The Department of Labor has also leveraged the power of infrastructure investments for building diversity in the construction trades, by creating the Mega Construction Project Program (MCP Program) within its Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Through the MCP Program, OFCCP works to support contractors and subcontractors working on large federal construction projects by providing compliance assistance at the earliest stages of a project, better preparing them to comply with OFCCP regulations and improve diversity. The program also helps to facilitate partnerships among stakeholders that work to build an inclusive pipeline of job applicants, including collaborating with the Office of Apprenticeship to educate contractors on the benefits of integrating apprenticeship opportunities.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by DOT and DOL further commits the federal government to harnessing transportation and infrastructure investments for the creation of pathways to high-quality jobs for all workers. TTD applauds the MOU’s recognition of good jobs as a valuable tool for advancing equitable outcomes and building a sustainable economy. We look forward to collaborating with DOT and DOL on improving job quality, training an expanded workforce, and fostering opportunities for workers of marginalized communities to enter transportation trades.

One additional step the Biden administration can take is to update the Uniform Guidance (2 CFR Part 200) from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which still contains the 1980s prohibition on non-federal entities using geographic preferences when spending federal money. This language still applies to infrastructure funds that are being spent by other federal departments. The OMB should delete the broad geographic preference prohibition and instead insert language permitting local and targeted hiring practices for federally-funded projects. This language should also be expanded to explicitly permit state and local recipients to enter into project labor or community workforce agreements, which cities and states are otherwise hesitant to do on projects with federal funds, as well as to take job quality into account when contracting.

Ensuring new technologies don’t undermine the most vulnerable workers

In January 2022, DOT, under the leadership of Secretary Buttigieg, issued departmental innovation principles, which commit this administration to transportation innovation policies that empower workers and expand access to skills, training, and the choice of a union, and guarantee workers a seat at the table in shaping innovation. This commitment is critically important from an equity perspective, as “innovative” technologies, including automation, stand to have a disproportionate impact on workers of color. Across all industries, a recent report found that automation will play a significant role in transportation. Technology boosts the productivity of workers, and this will be a chance to boost wages, but only if unions are at the table to make sure workers get their share of those gains. And TTD will fight to make sure that unlike in the past, that when technology means higher wages and better working conditions, these jobs will benefit those holding the jobs now, and will not be used to displace Black workers to garner gains for white workers.[30]  TTD has detailed our long-standing concerns about an industry-wide effort to embrace automated technologies.

Removing structural barriers to good jobs through targeted workforce training

In March of 2021, the Department of Labor announced $87.5 million in available funding for State Apprenticeship Expansion, Equity and Innovation Grants, with $40 million of those funds to be awarded to states that implement diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in their programs and commit to building on their progress.[31] Last month, as part of the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to strengthen Registered Apprenticeships, the Department of Labor announced $113 million in grant funding for the Apprenticeship Building America program to expand diversity in apprenticeships, with up to $50 million to support equity partnerships and pre-apprenticeship activities to increase enrollment in Registered Apprenticeship Programs.[32] Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh understands first-hand the role pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs play in providing underrepresented groups access to skilled trades, explaining, “This earn-as-you-learn model is helping to grow our economy and supports the Biden-Harris administration’s strategy to ensure marginalized populations’ access to good jobs, a key to a successful and equitable recovery.”

More recently, DOL has doubled down on its mission to connect workers from every background with high quality jobs. Through the Secretary’s “Good Jobs Initiative”, the Department will provide workers with critical information regarding their right to form or join a union, and it will engage stakeholders to improve job quality and expand pathways to good jobs.

Transportation labor stands by the steps the Biden administration has taken to advance equity through access to high-quality jobs. TTD and its affiliated unions are committed to working with the White House, DOT, DOL, and other partners in the federal government to further identify and amplify pathways to transportation and infrastructure trades for workers from underrepresented groups.

Though only a snapshot of the many steps this administration has taken to support a more inclusive labor movement, these examples should be the standard that future administrations follow, and they enjoy the strong support of TTD and our affiliated unions.

Equity and Solidarity for the Transportation Workforce

The policies embedded in the IIJA that bolster workforce development and the utilization of union labor, and remove barriers to targeted hiring, lay the groundwork for rich and equitable growth of our economy and our transportation network.

But we know investments and strong union protections alone won’t solve the challenges of equity in our industry. The Biden administration’s prioritization of both union labor and equity initiatives in DOT and DOL funding opportunities serves as a strong model for all future federal transportation infrastructure investments. Women, people of color, and people who live in underserved communities all face real structural barriers to entry in the transportation trades, and all experience unique roadblocks. TTD applauds the progress being made and calls for more federal tools and policies for examining and reducing these inequities.

The entire labor movement is built on the bedrock principles of solidarity and equity. Although there have been triumphant successes and, at times, shameful failures in extending our hands in solidarity to workers of all communities over the course of our history, our movement has ultimately and undeniably empowered workers of every gender, race, ethnicity, and creed to have a voice on the job and earn a living that supports their families. Transportation labor is committed to advancing racial and economic equity in our ranks and in the federal policies we fight for every day.

Policy Statement No. S22-05
Adopted April 4, 2022

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[4] Ibid.