fresh voices from the front lines of change







"No matter what you do for a living, you need a transportation system that functions, that’s safe and reliable."

Ed Wytkind is President of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. That's a tough job right now because the country has backed off on funding public transportation since the Reagan administration. And now Republicans have been obstructing everything involving infrastructure, including transportation. (Think high-speed rail.)

In an interview by Danny Feingold at Capital and Main, Trains, Planes and Politics – A Talk With Transportation Advocate Ed Wytkind, Wytkind talks about transportation policy and what to expect from the next two years, the incoming Republican Congress and President Obama.

No matter what you do for a living, you need a transportation system that functions, that’s safe and reliable. These issues have become political Ping-Pong balls like everything else in D.C., where the reckless austerity crowd confuses pork barrel spending and wasteful government with hundred-year investment in infrastructure. It drives me because without a long-term solution and a multibillion-dollar investment we are becoming an also-ran nation in terms of our ability to compete in the global economy. It’s not getting better because we are passing short-term Band-Aid bills that barely keep up with inflation. We need to restore the idea that transportation and the infrastructure of the economy is a bipartisan issue.

One part of the interview I found interesting:

How has the nation’s underinvestment in transportation affected its workers?

Historically transportation has provided a really great pool of middle-class jobs. There are still plenty of them, but what we have seen is the corrosive effect of not investing in infrastructure. We have seen a dumbing down of labor standards. When budgets get tight and large transportation authorities face a recession like the one we just went through, they start getting seduced by really awful policy ideas including wholesale privatization of services, contracting out of work and attacking collective bargaining rights. You have workers in the para-transit field who carry the disabled and elderly through the transportation system, some of them are working for $10 an hour. That’s a disgrace, to be asking people [who] carry out such important work [to have to] hold down two or three jobs. With the huge wave of mergers in airlines, we have seen massive transfers of wealth to shareholders and corporate execs while workers have seen pensions eliminated, wages cut and more outsourcing.

The second way it has manifested is that when you stop investing in infrastructure, over the course of 15-20 years you have idled millions of jobs. The people who could be working go to Best Buy or Home Depot because they can’t get a job repairing bridges or building out new passenger rail systems. This is the first generation in the modern era that has seen a decline in the quantity and quality of jobs that transportation provides.

Please click through and read the entire interview at Capital and Main.

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