Industry groups, unions hail Buttigieg pick for Transportation secretary

Greg Nash

Transportation industry groups and unions were quick to applaud the selection of Pete Buttigieg as President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Transportation.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and dropped out in March before endorsing Biden. Biden announced on Tuesday he will nominate him for Transportation secretary.

The transportation industry has suffered throughout the coronavirus pandemic due to the lack of travel from state stay-at-home orders and quarantines. Many union leaders have been on the front lines of advocating for relief from the federal government.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson said in a statement that Buttigieg’s nomination signals the Biden administration will be focused on transportation.

“In Mayor Pete, the Biden/Harris administration has selected an accomplished, high-profile candidate for a department other administrations have too often treated as an afterthought. By contrast, this appointment signals immediate focus and urgency for the nation’s transportation policy and infrastructure, a welcome change for aviation workers,” she said.

Nelson added that Buttigieg will bring energy and determination to the agency and said that his military background as a former Navy officer will also provide significant experience. 

Nelson criticized former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel when his name was floated for the Department of Transportation position, arguing at the time that the agency is “effectively the labor department for aviation” and that Emanuel is a “union buster.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Tuesday also declared that the labor movement is ready to work with Buttigieg once he is confirmed. 

“During his historic campaign for the presidency, Pete Buttigieg pledged to strengthen unions, help grow our ranks and increase worker power across the board. He also advanced a robust agenda to invest in and modernize our nation’s infrastructure,” Trumka said in a statement. 

Buttigieg would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary to be confirmed by the Senate if installed in the role. He is also the youngest Cabinet nominee for Biden at 38 years old.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said “Buttigieg understands that U.S. transportation workers are the ones who move the American people,” the Air Line Pilots Association touted Buttigieg’s experience and “sound judgement,” and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents flight attendants at American Airlines, said Buttigieg “has been a trailblazer.”

The struggling air travel industry has lobbied the Trump administration and Congress for a $25 billion injection for payroll support through the Payroll Support Program, which was part of the CARES Act and expired in October. Since then, airlines have faced massive layoffs.

Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. airlines, stressed the need for a speedy recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in congratulating Buttigieg. 

“Mayor Buttigieg has been engaged with transportation for many years, and we look forward to working with DOT under his strong leadership as we resume connecting American communities, families and businesses with each other and with the rest of the world,” CEO Nicholas Calio said.

Similarly, the Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), which represents U.S. airports, said “the Department of Transportation secretary will be taking the helm at a critical time where our airports need support now more than ever.” 

Amtrak, which has furloughed over 2,000 employees during the pandemic, said it’s excited to work with Buttigieg. The railroad system received over $1 billion from the CARES Act and has lobbied Congress for more.

“President-elect Biden knows that rail investments will support economic recovery, expanded mobility, and carbon emissions reduction and we are looking forward to working with Mayor Buttigieg and the new Administration to advance these essential goals,” Board Chairman Tony Coscia said.

The National Association of Manufacturers noted Buttigieg comes from a manufacturing state in congratulating him, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has called for the Biden administration and the next Congress to quickly tackle an infrastructure package, applauded all nominees for the Cabinet. 

“The men and women announced to date are respected and pragmatic leaders, with deep experience,” a Chamber spokesperson said.

Tags biden administration Biden cabinet Department of Transportation Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg

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