Construction workers launch campaign to pass highway repair bill

The main union for construction workers is launching a multi-state, multi-million dollar campaign aimed at winning Senate support for a highway bill.

The union also plans to run billboard ads informing motorists that there are 598 structurally deficient bridges in the state. The ads also will ask Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Mark Udall (D) for help.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) is kicking off its Build America 2010 campaign in Denver across from the city’s Sixth Avenue Bridge, a structurally deficient bridge typical of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, according to the labor group.

Winning support for the bill, which would create jobs for union members to build and repair roads, railways and public transit routes across the country, is the union’s top priority.

The union, which has 500,000 members, is focused on the Senate because it has seen legislation pass in the House but languish in the upper chamber.

“The U.S House has produced significant jobs-creating legislation which would invest in building America — legislation which we believe the president would sign — but legislation consistently dies in the Senate,” Terry O’Sullivan, LIUNA’s general president, told reporters at a briefing Friday.

The union may expand the campaign to ten states, including Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Virginia. The initial outlay for the campaign is about $2 million but the union is willing to spend more.

“Money is not going to get in the way of this initiative,” O’Sullivan said.

LIUNA leaders agree it will be difficult to move legislation through the Senate before the end of the year. But the union wants to set the debate for the next Congress so that infrastructure-spending bills are considered a top priority and move quickly to the president’s desk.

“We are tired of nickel and diming the problem … We need to rebuild this country’s transportation system,” O’Sullivan said, adding that his union’s campaign “heightens” the issue for the next Congress.

The union’s primary legislative goal is a highway bill that would invest about $565 billion over six years in the nation’s infrastructure. Lawmakers have struggled to find ways to pay for that new spending, however, and the Obama administration sidelined talk of a new bill this year when they came out strongly against raising the federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of gas to help pay for it.

“We are willing to look at everything,” said Don Kaniewski, a former LIUNA official who now consults for the union.

Possible options to pay for the bill, besides a higher gas tax, include more toll stations or even a national infrastructure bank, according to labor officials.