I'm not only here speaking on behalf of the 2.5 million members that make up the New York State AFL-CIO, but also the transportation trades and the building trades department of the national AFL-CIO.
ISTEA I, as we all recognize, has been an inspiration to a lot. Economically, it has helped us develop a good part of the State of New York. We look forward to ISTEA II doing exactly the same thing, with some improvements.
Let me briefly highlight our principal concerns.
Securing the highest possible investment levels for all surface transportation programs must be the most important goal for those leading the reauthorization. In an era of government downsizing and constrained Federal spending, Congress must realize that the Nation's businesses and their workers cannot be competitive in the 21st century without a well-financed transportation network.
Moreover, the Nation must find the will to develop a reliable long-term funding mechanism to stop the financial hemorrhage of our national passenger railroad, Amtrak, but this goal must not be accomplished by forcing transport modes to compete against one another for a smaller pool of funds.
To help address this, the union's transportation trades department and the building construction trades department support redirecting the 4.3 cent gas tax into the highway trust fund. Amtrak should get one-half penny, and the highway transit program should get the balance under existing formulas.
If we are serious in addressing our infrastructure needs, we must identify new revenue sources. This redirection of fuel taxes will produce about $5 billion at a time when investment levels are falling well below projected needs.
As we all know, the 1991 legislation insisted on the maintenance of Federally-established labor standards and worker protections such as 13(c) and Davis Bacon. These Federal laws have ensured wage and job stability and protected collective bargaining rights.
The 13(c) program is a sensible mechanism to ensure that workers are not unfairly treated as a result of the distribution of Federal transit assistance or structural changes in transit systems.
Prevailing wage laws such as Davis Bacon Act prevent construction and service contractors from undercutting industry wage and benefits standards to the detriment of workers and their communities. If these protections are eliminated in the name of reform or waived in certain instances, the basic rights and jobs of workers are gravely threatened.
I might add that when you're considering the whole question of welfare reform and how it might be re-woven into the new bill, I would seriously consider the position taken by the national AFL-CIO, and if you do not have it, I'll see to it that they send it to you, and we'll also send you our position from the New York State AFL-CIO, because these are workers you're talking about, and everything we've seen up until now where they have used public monies to relief or to bring about welfare reform, they've thrown some of the laws that we have in this land today to protect the rights and the health and safety of workers out the window. So this would be something I would seriously look at.
Workers across our economy today are increasingly confronted with a dangerous and a unpredictable work place.
In a deal to deregulate the transportation industry, Congress has enacted legislation that narrowed the margin of safety for workers and the general public. For example, in 1995 national health and safety legislation, Congress attached a provision that could exempt some two million trucks from record-keeping, hours of service, safety inspections, insurance requirements, and other safety-related requirements. These are the same trucks that account for 50 deaths and 1,000 injuries per month, at a cost of $500 million annually.
This is the type of policy that undermines transportation safety that we will vigorously oppose when ISTEA is reauthorized.
On privatization, we have a whole section in the report -- and I won't go into that -- but Congress recognized the wisdom of this policy during the consideration of the original ISTEA bill when it included protections against the use of Federal transportation grants to force privatization on communities.
With regards to planning, current law allows a wide array of interests, including labor organizations, to receive, review, and comment on the annual and long-range transportation investment programs developed by metropolitan planning organizations before final approval is granted these plans.
Workers are directly affected by MPO recommendations and thus their unions offer a unique perspective to assist MPOs in developing workable and efficient plans. The role of workers and their unions at the planning table is to help ensure that employee issues are not merely cast aside when core planning decisions are made.
While we support the MPO program design embodied in the 1991 legislation, we believe a mandatory role for union representatives should be reaffirmed, and, to the extent possible, strengthened in the reauthorization bill this year.
ISTEA has represented a historic shift in transportation policy for this country. Thousands of communities, businesses, and workers in the northeast and across the country -- and I might add in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- have benefitted greatly from the 1991 act. We will look for this committee's leadership to help craft a bill that meets the Nation's surface transportation need by building on the successes of ISTEA.
Senator, you spoke to a number of unemployed youngsters today. I'd like to say that in this State, the State of New York, there are 10,000 -- we talk about training people -- there are 10,000 apprentices in training in the building trades and in the industrial trades, and I think with the reauthorization of the bill you'll see those numbers grow not only in our State but in the other States.
I thank you for the opportunity to present testimony.