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Transportation Trade Department (AFL-CIO) President Wytkind Speaks On Jobs And Infrastructure

Remarks by Edward Wytkind
President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

Delivered at Rally for Jobs and Infrastructure during Infrastructure Week

EdwardWytkindThanks Jos [Williams] for that introduction and for the work you do to mobilize this area’s labor movement behind job creation policies like the ones we are pushing today.

Good afternoon! Thanks for being here to join us in this fight to end the decades-long neglect of our transportation system and infrastructure, a neglect so pervasive that it threatens our economic future.

I’m pleased to join my labor movement colleagues and of course the Transportation Secretary.

I want to commend the President, the Vice President and the Secretary for the job they are doing to advance a vision that says America can and must do better in modernizing our transportation system.  The Administration’s aggressive call for a big and bold plan is exactly what is needed today as we see a lack of leadership and courage in this town.

Let’s be clear.  Our nation’s lifeblood is our public transit and rail systems, our airports and air traffic control system, our highways and bridges, and our ports and maritime systems.

This diverse and powerful network of massive transportation infrastructure and, I might add, the world’s finest transportation workforce, was once the envy of the world.  It is what our grandparents and parents handed off to us so that America had the transportation network it needed to compete and win in the global economy.

But we all know it: we haven’t kept up our end of the bargain. Our current investment gap is threatening to crater our economy, idle millions of good jobs, and harm our competitiveness.

A few facts.

More than 14 million Americans – 1 in 10 workers – operate, build and maintain our transportation system.  These are the types of jobs Americans need if we want to reduce the jobless rate and reverse the crisis of stagnant wages that so many are facing.

The Highway Trust Fund goes broke this summer and WE MUST not let that happen.  But this is really part of a larger problem – this generation is failing to make the investments needed to secure a new era of economic expansion, innovation and job growth.

Bus and rail transit systems, the lifeline for millions of workers and businesses, are seeing healthy demand for their services but more than 3 out of 4 face service and jobs cuts and fare hikes that many workers can’t afford.

Amtrak is using decades-old equipment and being denied the resources it needs to modernize during a time when it has broken its ridership records 10 of the last 11 years.  And like so many issues in this town, high speed rail funding has become a political football for lawmakers who clearly don’t get it.

1950s era technology and a highly skilled FAA workforce may be holding our air traffic control system together, but a broken funding system is slowing modernization and starving airports as we face a projected boom in air travel.

Highways are falling apart and doomed to endless gridlock, and tens of thousands of bridges need to be fixed or replaced, with some literally falling down.

Seaports are being left behind as global commerce brings us mega-sized vessels that threaten to overwhelm our resource-starved ports.

Our freight sector is expected to provide the network needed to execute an ambitious export agenda yet it endures intolerable bottlenecks and unreliable infrastructure.

For decades transportation manufacturing became moribund because we stopped investing and when we did invest in new trains and buses or bridges, we failed to maximize manufacturing job creation right here in America.

And at a time when millions of Americans remain unemployed we’re threatening to become the lost generation that failed to put people to work in middle class jobs building, operating and maintaining a modernized transportation system worthy of this century.

These are the symbols of a nation that is failing its businesses, its communities and its people.

We need a bold commitment to investment, must leverage cutting edge technology and must champion not a one or two year stopgap plan, but a 50 year vision.

It won’t be easy but it means not taking “no” for an answer… not taking half steps… and getting beyond flat-line funding levels and short-term legislative fixes that Washington keeps delivering.

There’s an election this year. And I believe the issue of expanding and modernizing our transportation system must be on the ballot.  Those that stand in the way of progress must be forced to explain why they’re against shorter commutes and goods shipments, faster and safer air travel, modern transit and rail systems, and modern ports that can fuel our exports.

We must return to the days when America built things and made lasting investments that defined our future.

Our transportation unions have a powerful jobs agenda for America. And we’re going to fight for it with everything we’ve got.

Teamsters: On the Ground, Cleaning Up After Sandy

Unions are about standing together and taking care of each other – and since Hurricane Sandy took aim at the Eastern Seaboard two weeks ago, that’s exactly what the Teamsters have been doing, 24/7.  You can read about their hard work on their blog.  Here are some of the highlights:

Monday, October 29th: “Department of Sanitation Teamsters battened down New York City before the storm hit, driving convoys of trucks to staging areas around the city and emptying and turning over garbage bins. They continued to collect trash and recycling during the storm today, and they’ll be on 12-hour shifts tomorrow to clean up debris.”

Tuesday, October 30th: “New York City Sanitation Department Teamsters from Local 831 are working long hours today removing trees from roadways, breaking apart limbs and cleaning streets as Hurricane Sandy moves on.  The monster storm crippled the city, flooding the subways and the Wall Street District and downing power lines. Hundreds of thousands of people have no power.”

Area residents started saying “thanks” on the Local’s Facebook page: “God bless all the people who are working to make our lives better after such a horrible storm.”

Wednesday, October 31st: “Parts of the Northeast are returning to normal today as Teamsters clear trees, repair rail tracks, clean up after flood damage, ship supplies and deliver those all-important iPhones.”

Fires were still burning; entire neighborhoods were buried under sand and seawater; millions were without power; and then 29 inches of snow fell.  “None of that stopped our brothers and sisters from getting ‘er done at departments of public works and sanitation, the railroads and UPS.”

Sunday, November 4th:  The Teamsters’ blog asks members across the nation for help.

“You can make a donation to the Red Cross by texting ‘redcross’ to 90999 and you will make a $10 donation.   Tom Petillo, president of Teamsters Local 125 in Trenton, NJ, is working with the IBT, Joint Council 73 and other New Jersey unions to coordinate rescue and relief efforts. He asks members to donate food, water and clothing.”

From a Teamsters member in Rockaway, Queens: “Bring shovels, gloves and give us a hand.  Don’t matter which block, just walk up and help.”

Monday, November 5th: “Teamsters sanitation and DPW members are working long, exhausting hours to get the New York region back on its feet. Many lost their homes, some lost children and a few are in the hospital with injuries. And yet they’re clearing away debris, handing out food and removing downed trees.”

“Department of Sanitation New York supervisor texted that sanitation workers are sleeping in the garages:  ‘Everyone seems better than one would expect. Some have lost everything.   Hot food has been scarce, and the workers are being fed military MREs.  Brother Michael Lewery’s home on Staten Island was damaged, but he went to work anyway. He ended up in the hospital after he was electrocuted.’ ”

Thursday, November 8th : “We delivered a truck of water and clothing donated by our members to storm-damaged Long Beach.   We went to the Martin Luther King center that, in normal times, serves as a community center and day care facility. The director of the center told us that no agency at all had been there to see them or help them yet.   This center is now serving as an emergency shelter for the community and they were in dire need of assistance. With a nor’easter coming in, they have no heat and the building had drafts and leaks that needed attention. We saw the genuine gratitude from these folks, who truly needed help. It was a proud day to be a Teamster.”

Friday, November 9th:  “The call just went out: The Red Cross desperately needs 400 drivers tonight, tomorrow and Sunday to bring relief supplies to hurricane victims in the New York region.”

Saturday, November 10th: “Teamsters are answering the Red Cross’s call to help distribute clean-up kits and supplies to victims of Hurricane Sandy. We’re getting photos of Teamsters packing and loading supplies in New Jersey warehouses. They’re also driving trucks and forklifts and shuttling volunteers all over the New York region.  This is a 24/7 operation. UPS Teamsters were out in force, doing what they do best: Delivering!”

“Brother Roy Gillespie tells us the Teamsters are renting buses from Teamster employer Jofaz Busing, and Teamsters from Local 854 are driving them to help with the bulk distribution. At noon today, a convoy of 12 trucks driven by Teamsters drove from the warehouse to hard-hit Rockaway. Another convoy of five trucks driven by Teamsters carried supplies to Staten Island.”

Sandy 11.10.12Sunday, November 11th:  “Red Cross warehouses, staging areas and distribution hubs are alive with more than 300 Teamsters and their families today. They’re all pitching in to get desperately needed supplies to victims of Superstorm Sandy in the New York region.”

“The news media is ignoring the extent of the damage, but it’s bad. At least 40,000 people in New York alone are homeless.  In Jersey City Teamsters are helping bag, load and deliver clean-up kits: Large mesh bags that each contain a blanket, work gloves, garden-size trash bags, flashlight and batteries, baby wipes, hand sanitizer and hand and toe warmers.”

“Some Teamsters spent the night in the warehouse. Some brought their spouses and children. The Teamsters rented buses to help move volunteers to staging areas and Teamsters are driving them. We’ve been hearing our experience in logistics (not to mention hard work) has been invaluable. Props to members from the New York City locals, and 210, 804, 707, 177, 282, 812, 817, 854, 730 and 177 who are helping out in the warehouse.”

“And let’s not forget our sanitation brothers from Local 831. They’re still working 12-hour shifts moving mountains of debris.”

Monday, November 12th: “Dozens of Teamsters and their families were already at the Red Cross’s Jersey City warehouse at 7:30 this morning and more were on the way to pack, load and drive supplies to Superstorm Sandy victims.  About 100,000 families suffered losses from the hurricane and the needs are staggering. Brother Roy tells us this is a long-term effort. Hundreds of volunteers will be needed 24/7 for the next two weeks to deliver supplies in the ruined communities. Chris Jordan, who handles Red Cross logistics, is asking for families to come help over the Thanksgiving weekend.”

The Red Cross put together a great Flickr gallery here that gives you an idea of the scope of the operation.

You can help the Teamsters help the storm’s victims.  Read more about their Disaster Relief Fund here.

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