April 19, 2014

What are these conservative lawmakers thinking?

By Calvin Studivant
Alternate Vice President, Bus Department

When reading about the conservatives’ attack on mass transit in the House of Representatives, all I can ask is, “What are they thinking?”

With gas prices rising to record levels, even low-wage workers who own an automobile can’t afford to drive to work; and for the millions of low-wage workers without an automobile, their only means of going to and from their jobs is by mass transit.

Yet mean-spirited conservatives in the House of Representatives are pushing legislation that would scale back federal funding for mass transit. Moreover, they want to prevent transit systems from using a portion of the federal funds they do receive — and which previously were earmarked for new equipment — for retention of curtailed service that would bring furloughed employees back to work.

Equally mean-spirited is legislation encouraging transit-system privatization, which would open the door for non-union operators eager to pay substandard wages and eliminate employee health care insurance and other benefits.

One conservative lawmaker is seeking to remove any requirement for shuttle-van operators whose vehicles cross state lines from paying even minimum wage or overtime. We can be sure that if this provision is enacted into law, an effort would follow to apply the legislation to bus and transit operators.

Congratulations go to the UTU’s District of Columbia Legislative Director Willie Bates, a member of an Obama administration Transit Rail Advisory Committee , who is working to draft language creating standardized federal safety regulations for transit system nationwide – an effort staunchly opposed by congressional conservatives.

Never in my career have I witnessed such mean-spiritedness by members of Congress. Our National Legislative Office is working diligently to educate more moderate Republicans on the potential danger to public safety and the economic well-being of working families from these harmful legislative attempts.

Each of us has an obligation to help in this effort, by encouraging our coworkers, families and friends to register to vote and vote in November in favor of labor-friendly candidates. UTU members also can make a difference by joining the UTU PAC, or increasing our donations to the UTU PAC. 

We must make our voices heard on Capitol Hill – for the sake of our jobs, our economic security and the millions of Americans who depend on public transportation to take them to and from work.