Trump’s plan attacks the very workers that build our infrastructure

Trump’s plan attacks the very workers that build our infrastructure
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE has been talking a big game about infrastructure. He and his congressional allies claim that their first priority is looking out for the American worker. But, the President’s proposal would put workers last and wealthy corporations first. 

Simply put, the new infrastructure proposal should be dead on arrival in Congress. So should any similar proposal that fails to invest in our infrastructure, guts public health and engagement laws and fails to protect working families. Instead, Congress should focus on funding infrastructure that will address the disproportionate needs of working families, expands access to good jobs and protects the health and safety of workers and their families.  

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Trump’s proposal takes a wrecking ball to commonsense safeguards that protect working families. While failing to provide actual infrastructure investment that would create safe and fair jobs, Trump’s proposal attacks public health, engagement and environmental protections. It puts our health at risk for the sake of wealthy corporations.

 

It relies on tearing down popular and needed health protections like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It’s a blueprint for long term disaster for our communities, our workers, and our health. This plan offers a false choice between creating good jobs and preserving health and public input safeguards. Our communities refuse to make this choice, knowing full well that we can have and deserve both.

NEPA is the law that makes sure that federal building projects get done right, from the first brick laid to the last wage paid. It requires the government to do its homework before building, and a key part of that is consulting local communities, including workers.

For workers across the country, NEPA is a crucial democratic tool. Though NEPA was one of the first environmental laws, at its heart it is really a civil rights law — providing an opportunity for people to comment on the highways and power plants that are built by, for, and in our communities. It gives us a voice in the planning process for infrastructure projects, a voice we use to advocate for safe working conditions at toxic waste sites and access to health care in immigration detention centers. 

By requiring public input, NEPA allows for workers to lend their expertise in the design and construction of projects. This is critical because workers have a unique expertise about the best and safest methods to build more resilient infrastructure. 

Indeed, Latino working families are disproportionately impacted by poor infrastructure planning. Half of all Latinos live in this country’s most polluted cities, in neighborhoods where incinerators, power plants, and factories are clustered together. We deserve to have a say in how these facilities are sited and operated and how other projects are sited and built, and NEPA provides the public comment and evaluation of alternatives that make this possible.

When projects are excluded from NEPA review and due diligence is not done, the consequences can be disastrous. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster — which killed 11 people, sickened clean-up workers, and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and onto beaches across the southern seaboard — is one such example. The risk of disasters like these can be mitigated if all stakeholders are at the table and basic health and safety standards are met.

Latino workers make up 43 percent of ground, maintenance, and construction workers; our input and expertise is needed to make sure that we build resilient infrastructure that works for our communities. By ignoring health and environmental laws like NEPA, the president’s infrastructure proposal will exclude our voices from the process, and ultimately will result in shoddy projects, polluted places, and the erosion of worker protections.

NEPA can expose sham projects that would harm our communities and risk the safety of our workers. For example, if followed, NEPA would expose a militarized border wall for what it is — a hateful waste of money. Fearing that NEPA would allow for a study of the impacts — like catastrophic flooding — of such a wall and empower communities with a voice in the matter, the Trump administration has waived NEPA to build a border wall. The infrastructure proposal is the president’s attempt to expand these waivers to the rest of the country. 

We don’t build blindfolded, and the government shouldn’t either. An infrastructure package that puts workers front and center, by upholding NEPA and other laws, will protect our communities, not undermine them. Like all Americans, Latino workers and families want good jobs, a safe and healthy environment and long-lasting infrastructure. We will raise our voices to get it. 

Hector Sanchez is the chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda. He is also the executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.