Labor readies fall highway blitz

Labor readies fall highway blitz

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) union is gearing up for an aggressive fall push to convince lawmakers to approve a long-term highway bill that has eluded transportation advocates for the better part of a decade. 

Federal funding for road and transit programs is set to expire on Oct. 29. The Teamsters union is planning to greet Congress upon its return to Washington next week with a simple message: Get serious about passing a multiyear transportation bill.

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“While the U.S. economy is recovering, many Americans’ paychecks are shrinking,” the union’s president, James P. Hoffa, wrote in a letter about his labor group’s new “Let’s Get America Working!” campaign that is being sent to Congress on Sept. 8.  

“That’s not a coincidence,” Hoffa continued in the letter. “Our campaign seeks to restore a dynamic and prosperous middle class to drive economic growth by helping to advance policy decisions that create and maintain good middle-income jobs, guarantee retirement security, expand access to the American dream and ensure that the benefits of the ongoing economic recovery are felt by the many, not just the few.” 

Chief among those policy decisions that benefit middle-class workers in the eyes of the labor community is a long-term highway bill, which has been a source of constant frustration for lawmakers and transportation advocates in recent years. 

Congress has not passed a highway bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005. Most recently, they were only able to cobble together enough money for a three-month patch that is currently set to expire on Oct. 29.

The Teamsters union is planning to run radio ads in the Washington, D.C., area and purchase ad space in Capitol Hill publications to focus lawmakers’ concentration on highways upon their return to Washington next week.  

The union says it is launching its campaign to persuade Congress to pass a long-term highway bill this fall because “the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, airports, railroads and mass transit systems are crumbling.” 

“Most Americans use these systems every day, including hundreds of thousands of Teamsters who are truckers, railroad workers, bus drivers, building tradesmen and others,” the group said in a packet that it will provide to members of Congress next week.  

As much as $3.6 trillion should be spent by the year 2020 to repair and modernize the country’s transportation, the group said, citing estimates from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

“The Teamsters union calls on Congress to fund transportation infrastructure improvements by passing a multi-year surface transportation reauthorization.”

At issue is a shortfall in federal transportation funding that is estimated to be about $16 million per year. 

The federal government normally spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that is traditionally used to pay for infrastructure only brings in approximately $34 billion per year at its current rate.

The gas tax has been the main source for infrastructure spending since the 1930s. The tax has not been increased since 1993, and it has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses in recent years, as cars have become more fuel-efficient. 

Transportation advocates have pushed for a raise in the gas tax to help pay for the nation’s infrastructure projects, but lawmakers in both chambers have ruled out an increase.

--Read op-ed from James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

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