Friday, April 24, 2015

Former Teamster unveils new folk album

Joel Rafael, a former Teamster and critically acclaimed songwriter and folk artist, is again striking the right cord with his latest album, Baladista, released earlier this month.

Joel Rafael
Already called "the must have Americana album of 2015," (Boomerocity.com), and "an album overflowing with gentle, melodic grace," (No Depression), Baladista delivers 10 ballads that embrace and celebrate the human spirit and reflect the half-century journey of an American songwriter.

Rafael once worked as a Teamster concert grunt at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. But his ninth album on Inside Recordings -- a label created by Jackson Browne and his management team -- is one that touches the soul, according to Browne:

Joel Rafael's songs are filled with passion and compassion. Passion for social justice, and compassion -- for those among us who have to struggle for a place at the table of American prosperity. His voice is unmistakably his own, big, warm and strong, and a conductor for the human emotions that connect us all.

The album’s first single and video, “Old Portland Town,” tells the tale of Rafael’s experience being arrested in Portland as part of a city-wide sweep of the entire underground. He had migrated there from Los Angeles in an effort to avoid the impending military draft.

Another album highlight is “Love’s First Lesson,” a number co-written with Eagles songwriter Jack Tempchin. The two have been friends since the 1970s when they met while performing at the Blue Ridge Guitar Shop in Encinitas, Calif.

Rafael has been writing and performing since 1974 and over the past decades has released a collection of eight Americana albums, including a 2CD Woody Guthrie collection with five Guthrie/Rafael co-writes. As a solo performer and with his band, he opened shows throughout the southwestern United States for artists including Crosby, Stills and Nash, Sheryl Crow, Laura Nyro, Joan Baez, Taj Mahal, Iris DeMent, Emmylou Harris, and John Lee Hooker.

Baladista is available at all normal retail outlets, including Amazon and iTunes.

Today's Teamster News 04.24.15

Teamsters
Cedar Falls Schools, Teamsters open labor talks  WCF Courier  ...Teamsters Local 238 is in the middle of a two-year contract with Cedar Falls Schools, and officials are only bargaining on wages and insurance, said district spokeswoman Janelle Darst. A total of 46 people are covered by the agreement, including various custodial positions, groundskeepers, mail deliverers, laundry workers, warehouse workers, plumbers, painters, carpenters, technicians and electricians...

Global Labor & Trade
Obama 'Fast Track' Trade Agenda Advances In Senate  Huffington Post   ...The Senate Finance Committee endorsed Obama's request for "fast track" legislation, which would renew presidential authority to present trade deals that Congress can endorse or reject but not amend. If the House and Senate eventually comply, Obama is likely to ask them to approve the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involves Japan, Canada and Mexico, but not China. Other trade proposals could follow...
Obama admonishes his base on trade  Politico  ... President Barack Obama told his progressive base that their stance on trade is retro. While Republicans have backed fast-tracking a 12-nation Pacific trade agreement, it’s Democrats who have balked, with liberal voices like Elizabeth Warren warning that the deal would fuel outsourcing and lost wages...
Pelosi criticizes Obama-backed trade bill  The Hill   ...Weighing in for the first time since the trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation was introduced last week, Pelosi said the bill lacks safeguards protecting U.S. workers and fritters an historic opportunity to improve worker rights, food safety and the environment across the globe...
Democrats Balk At Obama Plan To Cut Funding For Workers Hurt By Trade Deals  Huffington Post  ...The rift between President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats over trade policy deepened Wednesday as the administration opposed an effort to fully restore aid for American workers who lose their jobs to international trade...
Obama is failing us all by ignoring the need for currency rules in TPP  (opinion) The Guardian  ...If we recognize the need to address the trade deficit, and the centrality of the value of the dollar, then it is mind-boggling that the Obama administration would not have sought to include rules on currency in the TPP. After all, the Obama administration has been in office more than six years and allowed large trade deficits to persist...
Newly Leaked TTIP Draft Reveals Far-Reaching Assault On US/EU Democracy  Common Dreams   ...A freshly-leaked chapter from the highly secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, currently under negotiation between the United States and European Union, reveals that the so-called "free trade" deal poses an even greater threat to environmental and human rights protections—and democracy itself—than previously known, civil society organizations warn...
Hey Mr. President: Transparency Applies to the TPP, Too   (opinion) Truthout.org   ...when it comes to transparency you can't play pick and choose. You can't be transparent about a counterterrorism operation that went horribly wrong, but then be incredibly secretive about something like... the TPP...

State & Living Wage Battles
Illinois Lawmakers To Consider Right-To-Work  WTHI   ...An Illinois legislator expects Right to Work to be debated in the state legislature.  Right to Work bills prohibit workers from being forced to join labor unions.  Indiana and Wisconsin passed Right to Work laws amidst a huge controversy...
Democrats Are Rallying Around $12 Minimum Wage  New York Times   ...Democrats in Congress are uniting around a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour. Within the next several days, Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that deals with labor issues, plans to introduce a bill to increase the minimum wage, in steps, from its current level of $7.25 to $12 by 2020...
Religious Groups To Scott Walker: Don’t Drug Test The Poor  Think Progress   ...Wisconsin faith leaders from across the religious spectrum are calling on their state legislature to reject a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker (R) that would impose drug tests for some recipients of government-funded aid, arguing such screenings don’t work and unfairly stigmatize the poor...
NLRB Files Brief Supporting Unions' Lawsuit, Calling County Right-to-Work Laws Preempted  Bloomberg News   ...The National Labor Relations Board April 17 urged a federal district court in Kentucky to invalidate a county ordinance that prohibits the use of union-security provisions in collective bargaining agreements and regulates other practices that are either permitted or prohibited by federal law...
66% of San Jose’s Confirmed Wage Theft Money Goes Unawarded; Ordinance Proposed   We Party Patriots   ...San Jose is considering a wage theft ordinance which would help the labor commission recoup lost wages and deny permits and licenses to companies with pending wage theft violations.  The proposal is similar to one passed in Santa Clara County last year.  San Jose’s version is being supported by city council members Don Rocha, Margie Matthews, Ash Kalra, and Magdalena Carrasco.  The ordinance has been sent to the Rules and Open Government Committee...
The homeless man who works in the Senate   (opinion) Washington Post   ...In the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, 63-year-old Charles Gladden works alongside some of the nation’s most powerful people. But unbeknown to any of these bigwigs, or even to his employer, Gladden is homeless. Alongside hundreds of other federal contract workers, he protested the fact that our government doesn’t require the companies it does business with to pay what he considers a living wage....

U.S. Labor
Have We Seen the End of the Eight-Hour Day?  The Nation   ...Along with wages and conditions, hours used to be a basic concern in worker organizing. But since the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 enshrined the 40-hour week, hours have tended to be taken for granted. This is changing only because, in recent years, employers have entered a devastating new race to the bottom: Involuntary part-time is becoming the new norm for low-wage workers, together with schedules so unpredictable and varying that one can’t easily get another job, or go to school, or be a reliable parent...
Unions converge in Jersey City to protest legislation that they say will cut American jobs  NJ.com ...More than 100 strong, labor leaders and union workers demonstrated at the plaza in Journal Square this afternoon, urging lawmakers to vote down a federal bill they say would take jobs away from Americans. Led by Ray Greaves, a former Bayonne City Council member and chairman of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the group -- which included the Hudson County Central Labor Council, Food & Water Watch, ATU, NJ Industrial Union Council, Anakbayan and Communications Workers of America  -- spread the word to anyone in Journal Square who stopped to listen....

Miscellaneous
House Republicans vote against American consumer, again   Daily Kos  ...Proving once again how much disdain Republicans really have for the American public, the House passed a bill Wednesday, 250-173, to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Because they really, really don't want us to have any recourse against predatory businesses trying to fleece us...
Fed’s Rate Decisions Hang On Dollar, Growth Concerns  Wall Street Journal   ...The strong U.S. dollar and an unsteady global economy are emerging as primary concerns for Federal Reserve officials as they prepare for a policy meeting next week to consider the timing of the first interest-rate increase since before the financial crisis...
Airmail Via Drones Is Vexing For Prisons  New York Times   ...Drones flying over prison walls may not be the chief concern of corrections officials. But they say that some would-be smugglers are experimenting with the technique as an alternative to established methods like paying off officers, hiding contraband in incoming laundry and throwing packages disguised as rocks over fences into recreational yards...
It's Not The 1% Controlling Politics. It's The 0.01 Percent.  Mother Jones   ...In other words, about 1,200 Americans control more than 40 percent of election contributions. Notably, between 2010 and 2012, the total share of giving by these donors jumped more than 10 percentage points. That shift is likely the direct result of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which struck down decades of fundraising limits and kicked off the super-PAC era. And this data only includes publicly disclosed donations, not dark money, which almost certainly means that the megadonors' actual share of total political spending is even higher...
Inequality’s Big Enabler? The Tax Code. (opinion)  Washington Post   ...Of the 10 largest tax expenditures, only two — the $70 billion-per-year earned-income tax credit and the $57 billion child tax credit — favor the poor. The others disproportionately benefit the top 20 percent of earners, according to a Congressional Budget Office report...

House, Senate panels side with corporate cronies on fast track

The House Ways and Means Committee last night misguidingly followed the lead of its Senate counterparts by approving a fast track trade promotion authority (TPA) bill that will allow secret trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to be rammed through Congress.

Demonstrators protest fast track on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Despite the objections raised by Rep.Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and others on the panel who noted the legislation is a continuation of bad U.S. trade policy over the past two decades, a majority decided to side with big business interests by rejecting amendments by Levin and others that would have beefed up worker protections in fast track.

Levin, the panel's top Democrat, told his fellow committee members:

The TPP negotiators today are not on the right track. In some vital areas, we don't know where the USTR is heading. In other areas, we don't like where they are going. It is simply incorrect to say this TPA puts Congress in the driver's seat. Instead, it puts us in the back seat.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said it seemed fast track supporters were speeding forward with little concern about the possible consequences of the legislation. He said there is a real need for trade to benefit all Americans:

The question is not whether we should have more trade, but what the nature of that trade should be.

The House committee, like the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday night, rejected efforts that would have bolstered currency manipulation provisions so other countries can't rise up the costs of U.S. imports while lowering their export prices to Americans. They also pushed aside concerns about language that would allow foreign corporations to sue the U.S. government over laws on the books that they think hurt their company's business.

Both the House and Senate are expected to bring the fast track bill to the floor next month. It's now even more critical that Teamsters and other fair trade advocates let their lawmakers know that fast track is the wrong track for America.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Today's Teamster News 04.23.15

Teamsters
Teamsters reject fact-finder report, talks ongoing with Metro RTA  Ohio.com   ...A local Teamsters union has rejected a fact-finder’s report, spurring more contract talks with Metro RTA over increased wages and benefits. Teamsters Local 348, which represents 34 mechanics and maintenance workers, and RTA negotiators held a hearing March 20...
Abridged funding for infrastructure upgrades hurts all of us   Teamster Nation   ...Unions like the Teamsters take a great deal of pride in our country. We're proud to build what makes America work and we would be thrilled to get more workers on the job making our infrastructure the best in the world. It's time for a bipartisan solution to do so...

Global Labor & Trade
With 'Brave Tactic,' Sanders Tries to Slam Brakes on Fast Track  Common Dreams   ...In what is being heralded as a "brave tactic," Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday temporarily blocked lawmakers from rushing through legislation that would allow the Obama administration to "Fast Track" the controversial and highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Sanders forcibly delayed the Senate Finance Committee from considering Fast Track legislation by using a rarely invoked senate scheduling rule...
China's shadow looms over Senate trade debate   Politico   ...The Senate Finance Committee’s vote late Wednesday to approve “fast track” trade legislation revealed two things: Some Democrats strongly support the measure, and concerns about China’s currency practices will dog the bill as it moves through Congress...
House Democratic Leader Joins Bid to Upend Trade-Deal Compromise   Bloomberg   ...With Pelosi’s endorsement, the Levin version could siphon Democratic votes from a bill by Representative Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who heads Ways and Means Committee, and introduced in the Senate by Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah and Ron Wyden of Oregon, the panel’s top Democrat...
Eyes wide shut on ISDS   The Hill  ...The ISDS provision allows foreign companies to sue their “host” governments though a specialized international arbitration mechanism that often grants protections exceeding those available in domestic courts. While the Obama administration has sought to downplay concerns about ISDS, the decision in Bilcon v. Canada highlights its very real problems...
Sen. Warren to Those Promising TPP Is So Great: 'Prove It. Let Us See the Deal'  Common Dreams   ..."The Administration says I'm wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about," Warren wrote in a blog post addressed to constituents and the general public on Wednesday. "They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can't see the actual deal"...
Obama and Republicans Agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership … Unfortunately   (opinion) New York Times  ...This is a bipartisan effort if ever there was one; George Will has called the TPP “Obama’s best idea.” Thus we see the administration, along with pro-business Democrats and Republicans, trying to bulletproof the deal. If that passes, Congress could vote only up or down on the deal, not amend it. That’s quite a bit of presidential power for a scheme that would have a striking impact on the global economy...
Congress Must Stop Fast Tracking Fast Track!  (opinion) Daily Kos   ...This Fast Track for secret, unread trade deals must be a wake up call that our democracy is in trouble and that politics as normal does not work. The corporate lobby from Nike, Microsoft, Google, Big Pharma, and led by the US Chamber of Commerce are all lined up against us like never before...
Murder Doesn't Matter Under U.S. Trade Deals, AFL-CIO Reveals  Huffington Post   ...Defenders of the White House push for sweeping trade deals argue they include tough enforcement of labor standards. But a top union leader scoffed at such claims Tuesday, revealing that administration officials have said privately that they don’t consider even the killings of labor organizers to be violations of those pacts...

State & Living Wage Battles
How Raising The Minimum Wage To $15 Changed These Workers' Lives  Huffington Post   ...A valet attendant and shuttle driver at a parking company called MasterPark, Babakrkhil saw his base wage jump from $9.55 per hour, before tips, up to $15. Having scraped by in America since immigrating from Afghanistan 11 years ago, he suddenly faced the pleasant predicament as his co-workers: What to do with the windfall? For the overworked father of three, it wasn't a hard question. Babakrkhil decided to quit his other full-time job to actually spend time with his wife and three young girls...
Federal Contract Workers Just Went on Strike in DC  The Nation   ...Janitors and food service workers at federal monuments are tired of earning a pittance on the taxpayers’ dime, so they’ve gone on a one-day strike. They join workers across the country to demand from Washington what their fellow fast-food workers and retail clerks in the private sector are demanding from private firms: $15 an hour and union rights...
$70,000 minimum pay turns out to be good for business   Daily Kos  ...Remember Dan Price, the CEO who cut his own pay to raise the minimum annual pay at his company to $70,000? Turns out, that wasn't just a morally good thing to do, and Price doesn't have to wait for the longer-term payoff of increased productivity and reduced staff turnover: "Price said the news has brought in dozens of new clients, making it the best week for new business in the company's 11-year history"...
Pennsylvania Scraps Flawed Test Meant To Determine If Food Stamp Recipients Are Poor Enough   Think Progress   ...Pennsylvania will no longer punish its poorest families for saving money after Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) administration announced the end of a flawed eligibility test for food stamps that was imposed by Wolf’s Republican predecessor. On Tuesday, state officials said they are ending food stamps asset tests...
Kansas Lawmakers Want The Poor To Pay For Tax Cuts For The Rich  Washington Post   ...Even the proposed increases in sales and excise taxes would make up only a fraction of the deficit. To balance the budget for this year, Brownback and other policymakers have proposed temporary measures, such as transferring money out of the state's highway fund...
Chicago Mayor Joins Chorus of Opposition to IL Gov’s Anti-Worker “Turnaround Agenda”   We Party Patriots   ...During a city council meeting this month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced a resolution to oppose Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed “Right-to-Work” zones, which would enable municipalities to enact hyper-ideological anti-union legislation on a local level...
The Chamber Of Commerce Is Fighting Fiercely To Stop The Scourge Of Corporate Transparency  Huffington Post   ...The Chamber of Commerce had submitted a brief in the Citizens United case in support of lifting certain previous restrictions on corporate spending. The business lobby has been active in elections since 1998, but dramatically stepped up its efforts following the Supreme Court's ruling. Since then, the Chamber has spent over $100 million on federal elections, almost all in favor of the Republican Party...
Corporations to Workers: "We Own You"  Truthout.org   ...Right now, House Republicans are trying to give employers here in our nation's capital the right to fire their employees if they go on birth control. Last year, the Washington DC city council passed a law called the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act of 2014 (RHNDA), which bans employers from firing or otherwise punishing employees for the private decisions they make about their reproductive health. Naturally, right-wing religious groups started freaking out...

U.S. Labor
Barack Obama Proposes $3.5 Billion Gas Pipeline Overhaul  Politico   ...But the amount of money the administration is proposing is just a fraction of what it would take to replace the hundreds of thousands of miles of decades-old cast-iron and bare-steel natural gas distribution pipes — the lines that are considered most vulnerable to ruptures. A full replacement would cost $270 billion, the report says. And the whole proposal immediately ran into GOP skepticism...
Pregnant Fast-Food Worker Robbed at Gunpoint Then Fired for Not Repaying Stolen Cash  Alternet   ...Marissa Holcomb was hard at work at a Popeye's in Texas. She was in the midst of one of the busiest shifts of the week when a gunman with a stocking cap entered the store, jumped over the counter and robbed the clerk at gunpoint. Unable to open the safes, she opened the registers and the thief made of with roughly $400. Did she receive praise for handing over the cash and surviving the ordeal?...
Alabama Dispute Strains UAW-Lear Relationship  WardsAuto  ...The amicable relationship built up over the years between the UAW and Lear, the world's largest supplier of automotive seating, is being tested by a dispute at the company’s non-union plant in Selma, AL. The clash is filling up the dockets in two different courts in Alabama and has triggered an angry exchange over employee safety between the company and the union...
NJEA breaks off pension talks with Christie   Philly.com   ...In a setback to Gov. Christie's proposal to overhaul New Jersey's pension and health benefit systems, the state's largest teachers' union on Tuesday said it would no longer participate in talks with a panel he appointed to tackle the funding crisis. The union also called on Christie to fully fund the pension system. Christie shorted the system about $1.6 billion for the current fiscal year...

Miscellaneous
Detroit Just Had The Single Largest Tax Foreclosure In American History  Mother Jones   ...On March 31st at the Wayne Country Treasurer's Office, that Victorian-era invention was accomplishing neither objective. Then again, no door in the history of architecture—rotating or otherwise—could have accommodated the latest perversity Detroit officials were inflicting on city residents: the potential eviction of tens of thousands, possibly as many as 100,000 people, all at precisely the same time...
Pipelines Blow Up And People Die  Politico   ...Oil and gas companies like to assure the public that pipelines are a safer way to ship their products than railroads or trucks. But government data makes clear there is hardly reason to celebrate. Last year, more than 700 pipeline failures killed 19 people, injured 97 and caused more than $300 million in damage. Two of the past five years have been the worst for combined pipeline-related deaths and injuries since 2000...
GOP Infighting Threatens NSA Bill  Politico   ...It’s the second congressional effort to reform surveillance practices since Snowden’s leaks revealed the vast nature of the NSA’s operations. But if lawmakers don’t do anything this time, key parts of the PATRIOT Act will expire, including a key provision that the government has used to justify bulk data collection...
The Sun Must Go Down On The Patriot Act (opinion)  Huffington Post   ...Some legislators want Congress to reauthorize it in its current form -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just introduced a bill that would do exactly that, extending it for another five years. Others want to make relatively minor changes. Congress shouldn't do either of these things. Unless Congress can coalesce around far-reaching reform, it should simply let the provision expire...

Low-wage federal contract workers on strike storm Capitol Hill

Low-wage workers above and below marched on the Capitol yesterday.
Up to a thousand low-wage contract workers in Washington, D.C. took part in a one-day strike Wednesday for living wages and a union. The workers, organized by Good Jobs Nation, are janitors, cafeteria workers and others who make up the subcontracted workforce in federal buildings.

The colorful and boisterous throng of workers chanted "hey hey, ho ho -- $10.10 is way too low" as drums and blaring trumpets led the march line passed Senate offices and to the grounds of the Capitol.

Good Jobs Nation is part of the growing movement calling for "$15 and a union" for low-wage workers. In particular, contract workers point out that the federal government produces more low-wage, poverty-level jobs than Walmart and McDonald's combined. They are taking action to demand a $15 wage and an executive order from President Obama allowing them to unionize.

Sonia Chavez spoke to the crowd at a press conference in front of the Capitol at the end of the march:
My husband and I are federal contract workers who clean the office of the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The Secretary of Education likes to speak about a “Race to the Top” on education. But the truth is we also need a “Race to the Top” on wages.
Sonia and her husband are only paid $9.50 an hour. They clean the offices of the most powerful government in the world -- yet they are victims of wage theft and are owed $40,000 in back pay.

Last year, workers' actions led to Obama signing an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 -- a still-paltry wage for families living in a region where the cost of living continues to skyrocket. Organizers of yesterday's strike actions say the president should sign an executive order mandating federal agencies to give contract-bidding preference to employers that pay a $15 minimum wage to their workers.

With candidates gearing up for the 2016 presidential election, workers are calling for a president who will support them with a living wage. They chanted "If you want the people's vote -- $15 and a union" during the march.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has hinted at running, joined workers at the press conference:
American workers deserve a decent wage. The middle class is disappearing. We have millions of working people living in poverty and 99 percent of all new income is going to the top one percent. That is not what America is supposed to be about. If you work 40 hours a week, you should make enough to take care of your kids and your family.  
What we’re saying today is pretty simple. The taxpayers of this country want to make sure that when government contracts are made those employers who get those contracts pay employees a living wage, that they allow their workers to form a union, that they provide good benefits to their workers.
Other leaders stood with workers at yesterday's action including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), faith leaders and other supporters.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sanders halts consideration of fast track bill

Teamsters participated in a fast track protest on Capitol Hill this morning.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today shut down a Senate Finance Committee mark up of fast track trade promotion legislation when he used an obscure Senate scheduling rule to temporarily halt consideration of the bill.

In a statement, the pro-union, pro-worker lawmaker said it was imperative to slow the process down instead of jamming it through Congress as quickly as possible:

This job-killing trade deal has been negotiated in secret. It was drafted with input by special interests and corporate lobbyists but not from the elected representatives of the American people. Instead of rubber stamping the agreement, Congress and the public deserve a fair chance to learn what’s in the proposal

Even before Sanders took his deliberate stand to postpone consideration of the measure, protesters were on hand to make their voices heard. Fair trade backers spoke out in the hearing room. And outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building, the Teamsters joined other anti-fast track demonstrators in letting the public know that the trade vehicle would allow secret deals to sail through Congress with little oversight and result in lost jobs. Some were dressed as the "TPP Express," simulating a trade train that would bring corporate injustice and sweatshop conditions to the nations involved in the Pacific Rim trade deal.

The hearing resumed late this afternoon. In opening statements, many lawmakers made clear they were choosing to ignore the history of lost U.S. jobs caused by so-called "free" trade deals and would vote to approve fast track. The debate will move to the House side tomorrow, where the Ways and Means Committee will consider the legislation.

Abridged funding for infrastructure upgrades hurts all of us

Our nation's infrastructure is rickety, outdated and desperately needs upgrades. America's roads are in dire need of repair, costing the economy over $100 billion annually in lost fuel and time. The country's railroads are laughably obsolete and plans to upgrade them are pigeon-holed in a bureaucratic nightmare. Worst of all, the levees that surround our most vulnerable coastal regions are so decrepit that even the worst storm they've seen in 400 years should be viewed as better than a worst-case scenario, because the levees were weak enough to allow more damage. Why is this situation so severe?

The I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis after its sudden collapse in 2007.
The most important reason for this is the policy surrounding infrastructure dollars is significantly outdated. The gas tax, the primary financial mechanism for this, is just over 18 cents per gallon and has not been raised since 1993. Fuel efficiency in vehicles has been rapidly increasing, thus fewer coins are going into the Department of Transportation's coffers since we are using far less gas than a few decades prior. The fiscal elephant on the road won't get any smaller though: it is estimated that our infrastructure needs an investment of $3.6 trillion dollars by 2020.

Another roadblock to solutions lies in how transportation funding is implemented. Recently, Congress has taken up the disgusting practice of funding the very basic functions of government at the last possible minute. This also applies to transportation funding, which is absolutely crippling for any positive momentum in terms of infrastructure. Real infrastructure improvements rely on long-term planning, timelines that stretch over multiple years, rather than just lurch from month to month. Without stable funding, it is impossible to plan projects that are sorely needed.

Potholes on a road in New Orleans.
Investment in this area of our society is a wonderful idea. The return on investment is massive and it's easy to see why -- safer roads will lower insurance costs for drivers, putting more money in their pockets and the regional and national economies. Likewise for individuals in areas prone to severe storms or flooding, strong levees mean their home insurance will be much less expensive. Regional rail systems save folks money on their commute and drives up property values, increasing property tax intake for the municipality of residence. It creates scores of American jobs. The list of economic benefits goes on and on.

Unions like the Teamsters take a great deal of pride in our country. We're proud to build what makes America work and we would be thrilled to get more workers on the job making our infrastructure the best in the world. It's time for a bipartisan solution to do so.