Laborers, AFL-CIO Seek Funding for Infrastructure Repairs.

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Saying “there’s no single answer” to funding U.S. infrastructure needs, Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan endorsed a variety of approaches – some pushed by GOP President Donald Trump and Congress’ ruling Republicans and others long-time union and Democratic favorites – to raising funds to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, subways, airports and bus systems.

O’Sullivan endorsed the “all-of-the-above” approach at a May 14 D.C. kickoff of “Infrastructure Week,” which featured a coalition of unions, business, think tanks and others all coming together to lobby states and D.C. for at least $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending.

“All of us are united in concern about America’s crumbling infrastructure,” he told a crowd of business, civic and other interested leaders packed into a meeting room at Washington’s Union Station. It was one of several hundred events coast to coast designed to put the pressure on lawmakers, governors and Trump to fund infrastructure.

“We support any and all sources of funding that will create good-paying, family-supporting, middle class jobs building and repairing America’s infrastructure,” O’Sullivan said.

The Laborers support all the different funding plans “as long as the projects” they pay for include “worker protections” on wages and in project labor agreements, O’Sullivan elaborated. The other panelists who spoke were notably silent on that point.

The all-of-the-above approach O’Sullivan endorsed includes state and local municipal “bonds, user fees, public-private partnerships and more,” he said. It also must include federal investment, he added, but without being specific. Unions, including the Laborers, have campaigned for large federal shares in infrastructure spending.

Notably missing from O’Sullivan’s remarks: Raising the federal gas tax, which, at 18 cents a gallon, hasn’t gone up since the Reagan administration.  Combined with higher fuel efficiency and use of a small portion of gas tax revenues for subways and buses, U.S. high-ways have faced a massive shortfall in cash for repairs, replacement and new construction.

 

Finding new revenue for such a massive construction effort means jobs not just for his 500,000-member union, but for other building trades unions, O’Sullivan said. And it benefits the country, he added.

The Laborers have been campaigning for years to rebuild America, including such devices as carting a smashed school bus around the country to show what would happen when the bus runs off a badly maintained road. It also sent a sound truck about crumbling infrastructure to key “swing states” in the industrial Midwest during prior election years. A big section of the union website is devoted to the issue.

“It’s about building better lives for ourselves and our families, and it’s about leaving behind structures and systems that will be there for future generations, just as those who came before us left behind the highways, bridges, tunnels, waterways, power grids and other infrastructure we rely on today,” O’Sullivan said.

And it has to be done now, he declared. Without such investment, the U.S. within 20 or 30 years could find itself with Third World infrastructure, costing workers jobs and companies revenue and profits. “It’s time to stop talking and start doing. It’s time for this nation to put its money where its mouth is. It’s time to build,” O’Sullivan stated.

The AFL-CIO is also upset with congressional inaction. “Where the hell is the bill?” Federation President Richard Trumka asked of Congress and Trump during a speech at an Operating Engineers conference on May 8.

“To be globally competitive, we also must invest upwards of $2 trillion in the transportation, energy and communications technologies of the 21st century. The federal gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1993. Countries like China and Germany are running circles around us on infrastructure,” he continued.

“Unfortunately, President Trump’s plan is just another Wall Street giveaway. It includes only a fraction of the public money needed to rebuild our infrastructure. It pits rural and urban communities against each other. And it forces privatization down our throats. All this from someone who claims to be ‘the builder president.’”

O’Sullivan reminded his listeners past lobbying made a difference, pushing Congress to previously enact a 5-year $305 billion transportation bill. That law only authorizes money. It doesn’t parcel it out.

And due to opposition from anti-everything congressional Republicans, the bill didn’t raise the gas tax. As a result, O’Sullivan admitted, actual infrastructure spending “might have to come in bits and pieces.”

Trump has proposed a $1 billion infrastructure program, but 80 percent of the money would come from state and local governments. And many of those governments are upset the Trump-GOP tax law would reduce their revenues, for transportation or anything else, by its $10,000 limit on the individual income tax deduction for state and local taxes.

That hasn’t stopped states and cities from raising their own gas taxes and funding infrastructure, having grown tired of waiting for the feds while watching their roads crumble and their bridges fall down.

A succeeding panelist, Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler, said lawmakers in D.C. “shouldn’t be afraid” of raising the gas tax. His city’s experience – voters raised their taxes for a $250 million transportation bond issue in 2016 – shows people are willing to pay more to get good roads, safe bridges, mass transit, better buses, faster commutes and other benefits.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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