Let me first commend you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Senator Max Baucus, and the entire Committee for holding this hearing and for inviting all interested parties to share their views and concerns about the future of our nation's surface transportation policy and related safety programs. ISTEA reauthorization will bring us to the next century with what we hope will be a well- balanced policy blueprint for the nation's long-range surface transportation needs. Because this legislation will be the single biggest job creator this Congress considers, we consider its completion this year among our most important legislative priorities.
While many who will or have appeared at this hearing will bring different opinions about certain aspects of ISTEA, I think we can, or at least should, agree that ISTEA has been extremely successful in developing long-term transportation infrastructure planning to the benefit of American communities -- large and small, urban, suburban and rural. The original landmark Act, which was a broad bipartisan effort, authorized $155 billion for highways, bridges, and bus and rail transit systems. It created millions of good paying jobs, inspired economic development, brought planning decisions to a more localized level, and provided the nation with increased and safer transportation choices.
We are hope~ful that this Committee and the entire Congress will again act in a bipartisan manner to build on the successes of ISTEA by maintaining the essential framework and focus of this critical transportation and infrastructure investment legislation. To that end, there are a number of issues that I will highlight for you as you move forward with ISTEA reauthorization.
SECURE MAXIMUM FUNDING LEVELS
Securing the highest possible reauthorization levels for all surface transportation investment programs must be the most important goal of those leading the reauthorization of ISTEA. For transportation labor, this is one of our top priorities. Deep spending cuts in recent years have already reduced transportation choices, shelved or delayed important highway and transit infrastructure projects, imposed higher fares and devastating service cuts on passengers, stalled productivity gains by transportation companies and their employees, led to a crumbling highway infrastructure plagued with chronic congestion, and denied thousands of good jobs generated by sound transportation investments.
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. To that end, Congress is in a position to send a strong signal about our nation's priorities during ISTEA reauthorization.
The 1997 ISTEA bill therefore must provide ending for highway and transit programs, inter- city bus and rail service, safety enforcement and other programs. Moreover, Congress must develop a more reliable and long-term funding mechanism to stop the financial hemorrhage of our national passenger railroad - Amtrak. But it must not accomplish this goal by cutting ending levels and then forcing the various transport modes to compete against one another for a diminishing pool of funds.
To this end, we believe that the 4.3 cents motor fuel tax imposed on the users of highways in 1993 for deficit reduction should be redirected into the Highway Trust Fund and distributed equitably and fairly within our federal surface transportation program. From these new monies, we support allocating a 1/2 cent for Amtrak capital needs with the 3.8 cent balance going to support additional investments in highway and transit needs under traditional formulas. This move will boost much needed investments in a number of surface transportation programs and will redirect several billion dollars annually in fuel tax revenues back to their longstanding purpose: the support and maintenance of our nation's transportation system.
Under the 1991 Act, a portion of the funds can be "flexed" among different program categories. These provisions empower local planners to set spending priorities based upon the unique needs of their communities and transportation system. This program has permitted a fair and rational distribution of transportation dollars while adhering to basic Congressional priorities with respect to highway and transit accounts. The balance achieved in this program has proven sensible and therefore should be preserved in the reauthorization legislation.
PROTECT WORKER RIGHTS
As we all know, the 1991 Act granted states and localities added flexibility in administrating transportation programs -- a policy we supported so long as federally established labor standards and worker protections were not undermined in the process. Fortunately, the 1991 legislation insisted on the maintenance of these basic protections.
Laws like the Davis-Bacon Act and Section 13(c) of The Federal Transit Act have been instrumental in ensuring wage and job stability and protecting collective bargaining rights. The 13(c) program has provided 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. In the performance of federal contracts, prevailing wage laws such as the Davis-Bacon Act prevent construction and service contractors from undercutting industry wage and benefit standards to the detriment of workers and their communities. If we eliminate these protections in the name of "reform," or try to waive their application in certain instances, we threaten the basic rights and jobs of workers and we ignore the indispensable role they play in guarding against the use of federal dollars to bring down the wages and standards of living in communities.
If I can leave a single message today it is that the labor movement is committed to advancing a strong ISTEA reauthorization bill. We intend to work with Members on both sides of the aisle and to enlist the support of our rank-and-file leaders and members across the country to help make this legislative priority a reality. However, we are just as prepared to turn our attention to fighting any and all efforts to use ISTEA to attack longstanding worker protections and labor standards. We are hopeful that the Congress maintains its focus on advancing the best ISTEA legislation possible with a proper focus on providing the federal transportation investments needed for the 21st century.
ENHANCE TRANSPORTATION SAFETY
ISTEA must continue to ensure the safe and efficient operation of our transportation network, its users, and workers. Deregulation, industry consolidation and federal budget cuts have forced workers employed in the transportation industry into an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable workplace. We must therefore avoid policies that narrow the margin of safety for workers and the traveling public, particularly since highway fatalities have risen for two consecutive years. Declining wages for professional motor carrier drivers, for example, have opened the door for inexperienced drivers who receive inadequate training in the safe operation of their vehicles to proliferate in the market, as companies and owner-operators are forced to cut corners in order to remain competitive.
Adequate federal funds must be committed for the personnel and resources to carry out enforcement programs including driver training, vehicle registration, and adequate safety inspection facilities. We must also guard against industry specific safety exemptions, such as the pilot program adopted in the 104th Congress which may allow the waiver of various safety laws for over 2 million trucks. Moreover, we will strongly oppose any proposals to roll back the ability of the Department of Transportation or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to carry-out their vital workplace safety enforcement and policy-making responsibilities.
For workers in the transit industry, improving safety and security in the workplace is also a major priority. For example, drivers, other employees and passengers continue to face significant security risks such as assaults and incidents of harassment. Congress must combat these risks by committing resources for labor-management training programs directed toward the unique safety and security issues in the transit industry. In the transit and intercity rail and bus sectors, federal funding decisions must reflect the industry's requirements to meet the costs associated with compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act and federal drug and alcohol testing requirements.
Industry Specific Exemptions
During the 1995 debate over the critically important National Highway Systems (NHS) legislation, Congress attached a provision that could exempt some 2 million trucks from record- keeping, hours-of-service, safety inspections, insurance requirements, the National Driver Register -- which tracks repeat traffic violators -- and other safety-related requirements as to how these vehicles should be maintained, equipped and loaded. Under this so-called "pilot" provision, delivery trucks weighing between 10,001 and 26,000 pounds would be exempt from major safety requirements even though they 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 and that we will vigorously oppose when ISTEA is reauthorized.
Special "niche" exemptions from hours-of-service (HOS) regulations were also contained in the NHS legislation, which granted exemptions (in whole or in part) for drivers of trucks carrying agricultural products or construction materials and for public service utility vehicles, with no regard to size or weight. Congress should not be in the business of legislating or second guessing hours-of- service regulations. Driver alertness and fatigue are complex issues that deserve the scrutiny and attention of the regulatory process, which is constantly seeking to address issues in this area through the rule-making process.
Separately, Congress should direct more funding to enforcement. of current regulations. For example, the reauthorization bill should require the Office of Motor Carriers to publish an 800 number for drivers to call to report hours-of-service violations demanded of a driver by the company and afford better whistle-blower protections to those individuals.
NAFTA Safety Issues
Let me now address our continuing concerns with the NAFTA land transport provisions that were scheduled to go into effect in December 1995. These provision would grant Mexican commercial motor carriers access to the four U.S. border states and by the year 2000 to the entire United States. While the Clinton Administration wisely postponed those provisions in December 1995, it is under extraordinary pressure from our trading partners, business interests, and elements of the trucking industry to lift the restrictions. It is still evident today, however, that the United States is ill prepared to deal with the massive inflow of Mexican motor carriers onto our nation's highways. Border enforcement facilities are inadequate to handle the inflow of Mexican motor carriers that in most cases are in violation of U.S. safety and equipment standards, lack adequate insurance, and are operated by drivers not subject to comparable hours of service and rest period regulations. Since 1 in 4 of these vehicles are carrying some form of hazardous waste, a very dangerous situation on our nation's highways may be created. Furthermore, Mexican truck drivers earn as little as $7 a day, opening the door for the massive displacement of American truck drivers by U.S. trucking companies who are looking to exploit lower wage Mexican drivers. ISTEA's highway safety goals will be severely compromised by this job loss as qualified drivers are further displaced by Mexican drivers with significantly less training and knowledge of U.S. highway safety regulations.
Indeed, insufficient progress has been made in U.S.-Mexico negotiations since the border opening was postponed 16 months ago. And a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) Report, Commercial Trucking; Safrty Concerns About Mexican Trucks Rem~ain Even as In~spection Activity Increases (GAO/RCED-97-68), has confirmed our longstanding position. The report concludes, among other things, that approximately 1 out of every 100 Mexican trucks entering our borders is inspected, and of those inspected, 45 percent are declared out-of-service for such violations as bald tires, cracked frames and unqualified drivers.
The GAO also found that the U.S. Department of Transportation had spent almost $300,000 to train Mexican inspectors to inspect Mexican trucks, yet less than 20 percent of those inspectors are still employed by the Mexican agency. Even more astounding was a GAO finding that Texas does not have a single permanent truck inspection facility at the border and has only 29 inspectors on the U.S. side to cover two-thirds (today over 4,500 daily) of all the truck traffic that enters the United States from Mexico.
We find merit in the Administration's proposed Trade Corridor and Border Crossing Incentive Grant Program and the Border Gateway Pilot Program as contained in Section 1030 of its NEXTEA proposal. We are encouraged by a recognition of the threats that NAFTA represents to U.S. highway safety and to the physical infrastructure of our national highways. But until NAFTA's motor carrier provisions are renegotiated, such programs are band-aid fixes that will fail to address the underlying flaws in the NAFTA transport provisions as originally negotiated and eventually agreed upon in the NAFTA agreement approved by Congress.
The only way to resolve the highway safety threat posed by NAFTA is to alter the trucking provisions that created the problem in the first place. This means adding to the core NAFTA agreement measurable and enforceable safety standards and enforcement programs equal to or higher than existing U.S. safety standards. Side agreements and letters of understanding are easily ignored, require a true commitment on both sides of the border, and virtually impossible to enforce.
PRIVATE ENTERPRISE PARTICIPATION
As all of us know, there has been increased attention placed on the role the private sector should play in the delivery of transportation services. While we recognize the longstanding role of private sector participation in our industry, I want to emphasis that decisions relating to public or private control of the transportation infrastructure, and particularly transit service, should be left to local planners.
Congress recognized the wisdom of this policy during consideration of the original ISTEA bill when it included specific protections against the use of federal transportation grants to force privatization on communities ill-prepared for or disinterested in this type of transition or service option. We recognize the need to encourage private investment in our transportation infrastructure and the desire to develop new ways to finance important investments, but we warn against heavy- handed policies that would permit, or in fact promote, the irresponsible sell-off of our transportation network in the name of cost savings that have usually proven illusory.
I must emphasize that we ultimately believe that transportation facilities should continue to serve the public interest and not be dedicated solely to generating profits for private interests. At the very least, these decisions should be left to local authorities who are better equipped to make transportation decisions based on their local needs. To that end, we state our continuing support for President Clinton's recission of transit privatization rules that placed undue pressure on local transit grant recipients to explore privatization options at any and all costs. Those policies distracted attention and resources from providing vital services to the traveling public and harmed workers and communities. The labor movement is committed to preserving current privatization policies governing the federal transit grant program and will combat any proposals in ISTEA to turn back the clock.
ThE PLANNING PROCESS
Under current law, a wide array of interests including labor organizations are permitted to receive, review, and comment on the annual and long-range transportation investment programs developed by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) before final approval is granted for these plans. As this Committee is well aware, workers are directly affected by MPO spending and policy decisions 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. Many of the successes that ISTEA has produced can be traced to the positive and constructive role that workers and their unions have played at the local level. 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.
Separately, we continue to evaluate the impact of innovative financing mechanisms, such as the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) pilot program, and seek to ensure that these proposals do not compromise worker rights or allow federally assisted entities to avoid compliance with various statutes designed to protect the public interest.
Any expansion of this program in ISTEA reauthorization must require that all projects supported by 5113 funds meet important federal standards including those designed to protect workers. Transportation labor is prepared to support sensible innovative financing proposals, but not if their implementation is done at the expense of vital federal standards which may negatively impact the jobs and rights of workers in the transportation and building and construction industries.
ISTEA has represented a historic shift in transportation policy for this country. Thousands of communities, businesses and workers across the country have benefitted greatly from the 1991 Act. It would be most unfortunate if some choose to use the ISTEA reauthorization process to advance radical change in policy that would harm workers. As we've stated all along, we are prepared to work with the authorizing committees to advance a strong bill that supports our surface transportation programs into the 21st Century. However, we stand equally as prepared to wage a spirited campaign against any measures that will harm the rights or threaten the jobs of workers.
We are ready to do our share, to work with you every step of the way to advocate a long-term commitment to finance our nation's transportation needs. ISTEA is really about the future competitiveness of our country as the safe and efficient movement of people and goods becomes a growing challenge.
We will look for this Committee's leadership to help craft a bill that meets the nation's surface transportation needs by building on the successes of ISTEA and maintaining the essential policy framework which led to its enactment in 1991.
Thank you for providing us this opportunity to share our views.