Laborers, Transportation Trades blast Republicans’ infrastructure cuts
Officials work on the scene following a collapse on I-95 after a truck fire, Sunday, June 11, 2023 in Philadelphia. It took only two weeks to restore collapsed I-95 bridge thanks to infrastructure funds form Biden-backed legislation last year. | Joe Lamberti/AP

PHILADELPHIA —In just two weeks, thanks to federal infrastructure funds from legislation last year—and coordination by state, federal, and local officials plus round-the-clock work from unionists—the collapsed I-95 bridge in Philadelphia was replaced and reopened, thus solving a major transportation bottleneck in the Northeast U.S.

But if the House’s ruling Republicans have their way, in the transportation money bill they’re considering before Congress skedaddles out of town for its August recess, not only would the Philly repair not have been finished so fast, it might not have even begun.

That’s because the measure cuts highway repair and replacement funds so much that the new projects last year’s infrastructure and jobs measure OKs would be brought to a halt, or not start at all.

That’s one dismal prospect, along with deeper slashes in money for Amtrak and a 58% cut in money for the Federal Railroad Administration, just when that agency deals with demands to re-regulate the railroads after the disastrous February freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

The combination of cuts led the Laborers and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department to protest the House passage of a multi-billion-dollar measure funding the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Departments for fiscal 2024, which starts Oct. 1.

“The proposed cuts to physical infrastructure are irresponsible and will result in fewer jobs, more congestion, and less healthy communities.  Unfortunately, the appropriations process has been hijacked by partisan extremists and LIUNA will work to see that these cuts are rejected,” Laborers Legislative Director David Mallino e-mailed Press Associates Union News Service.

“We cannot ignore the likely loss of thousands of construction, operations, and maintenance sector jobs,” if the Republican funding bill passes, said TTD President Greg Regan and Secretary-Treasurer Shari Semelsberger in a joint statement.

“The Republicans’ devastating funding cuts to public transit, passenger rail, federal grant programs, and other critical infrastructure projects would significantly hamstring the progress of the historic investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“In 2021, Congress made a promise to the American people we would finally get our transportation infrastructure back on track after decades of neglect. Now, Republican leadership is pulling the rug out from under their own constituents who will suffer the economic and quality-of-life impacts of these cuts,” the two leaders wrote on July 18.

Regan and Semelsberger found three positives in the transportation bill: More money to hire and train 1,800 new air traffic controllers—which still wouldn’t solve the entire shortfall the Air Traffic Controllers previously identified—and “continued support of maritime and tanker security programs.

“But we cannot ignore the disastrous funding cuts for transit, passenger rail, construction grants, and other critical infrastructure projects,” they wrote.

“House Republicans…reneged on their commitment to their colleagues across the aisle,” Regan continued in a separate statement. “They abandoned Congress’s commitment to transform our transportation infrastructure through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“Cuts proposed in this bill would significantly hamstring the progress of the historic, bipartisan investments in infrastructure made under the leadership of President Biden, undermining the commitment Congress made to creating good jobs and improving the lives of all Americans.

“If this bill as written became law, thousands of jobs in the building, operation, and maintenance sectors of our transportation systems would be at risk. Moreover, local economies would lose out on the economic growth generated by high-quality transportation service.”

The Republican majority made no bones about what it wants to cut. Indeed they brag about them: 59% from mass transit and rail construction projects, such as the one Illinois is using to rehab Chicago’s Union Station, $876 million from Amtrak, “bringing it down to the FY03 enacted level” i.e. the level of 20 years ago, and zeroing out the California high-speed train project, for starters.

The Federal Railroad Administration would get “$1.451 billion…$1.952 billion below the FY23 enacted level and $3.318 billion below the president’s budget request,” the Republicans say.

And the Republicans would slash $356 million in funding to combat global warming, including a ban on $26 million for the Transportation Department to buy electric vehicles for its fleet. In a direct slam at people of color, who are often the most exposed to pollution, $300 million of the total cut would be to zero out “environmental justice grants” in public housing.

The Republicans also eliminate two special transportation grant programs, worth a combined $800 million. The majority calls them wasteful spending, but won’t say why. And the section of the measure dealing with HUD even eliminates all $10 million in agency aid to keep renters from being evicted. Many of those renters lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“To address shortfalls and fund Republican priorities, the bill eliminates several programs and makes deep cuts to others, especially those that received large amounts in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” the Republican majority asserts. That doesn’t sit well with Regan.

Meanwhile, a provision in a related bill, reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration—and the ticket taxes airlines collect from passengers–raises the retirement age for airline pilots to 67. Given the complexity of modern airplanes and the stress in flying them, that prompted a protest from eight airline unions. Raising the retirement age violates international standards and makes a mess of flight operations, pilot seniority systems, and union contracts, too.

Raising the retirement age “will upend pilot bidding, expose pilot unions and airlines to significant legal liability, require hard-fought-for collective bargaining agreements to be reopened and reduce other unions’ ability to negotiate contracts, reduce pilot utilization, create training backlogs, and imperil flight operations,” the unions said.

The one aim it won’t accomplish, the unions warned, is to “increase the supply of pilots.”

Unions signing that protest include the Airline Pilots Association and two independent pilots’ unions, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Air Traffic Controllers, the Machinists, the Transport Workers, Unite HERE, plus the Transportation Trades Department.

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.