By James Stem
UTU National Legislative Director
January brings a new session of Congress and the start of state legislative sessions across the country. Our UTU legislative team in Washington and our state legislative directors will be on guard protecting the interests of our members.
Two old UTU friends are in charge of key transportation committees in the House and Senate. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) now chairs the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee; and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) continues as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Among UTU legislative priorities:
- Growing passenger and freight rail transportation, including Amtrak, public transit and commuter airline service. America has become too dependent on foreign oil and expanded railroad and public transit service can help reduce that dependency and provide not just jobs, but excellent careers.
- Growing funding for transit. While demand is growing, many transit systems have buses and commuter rail cars stored because of a shortage of operating funds. We will work to secure more flexible funding so service can be maintained and expanded.
- Work to prevent the weakening or privatization of Social Security and Railroad Retirement.
- Work with our aviation partners for reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration to include new safety provisions.
- Work to pass improvements to the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008. Our members know the solution to fatigue: “Just tell me when I must report for work and I will show up rested.”
Among improvements sought will be: A 10-hour call for all unassigned road service; a provision to allow regular yard jobs only eight hours off-duty between shifts; require yardmaster assignments to be covered by hours-of-service provisions; require advance notice of interim release periods; and, a limitation on limbo time to a maximum of two hours for each tour of duty.
While the UTU has many friends on both sides of the aisle, we expect very few major policy issues to pass Congress the next two years given the divided government (Republicans in charge of the House; Democrats controlling the Senate).
While that may be disappointing, we also expect there to be less opportunity for bad things to happen.
That said, we will keep pressing on and do our very best to protect the interest of our members.