WASHINGTON (PAI)—By a 232-188 vote, the Democratic-run U.S. House approved a five-year $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill which authorizes, but does not actually dole out, funds for rebuilding and modernizing the nation’s highways, subways, airports, telecom infrastructure, water and sewer lines and more.
The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department strongly backed the measure. And building trades union members would gain thousands of jobs, at prevailing wage rates, through the legislation, the Moving Forward Act, HR2. Democrats voted for it 230-2. Republicans op-posed it, 3-185. GOP President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget opposes it.
North America’s Building Trades President Sean McGarvey also thanked lawmakers and hailed bipartisan backing for the measure. He avoided mentioning its “green” provisions. The related Green New Deal and its opposition to fossil fuels bothers the building trades.
“NABTU applauds (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi for moving forward this long-awaited, and desperately needed infrastructure agenda. We commend the commitment to local prevailing wage rates and those who demonstrated that infrastructure is not a partisan issue or political issue, but an American issue with broad support, and a policy we should advance to strengthen us globally,” McGarvey said in a prepared statement.
“The over 3 million skilled craft professionals” in construction unions find this bill critically essential to guarantee the economic recovery, support today’s vote, and are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure all Americans enjoy the resulting prosperity delivered by the Moving Forward Act….We look forward to helping advance these improvements and modernization in infrastructure and labor protections for all.”
HR2 includes $494 billion for roads, billions more for mass transit and subways, $60 billion for railroad repairs, $29 billion to upgrade Amtrak, $100 billion to upgrade schools in impoverished districts, $100 billion to expand broadband and billions more for everything from bikeways to water pipes.
Replacing such century-old-plus pipes is a particular cause of Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Dan Kildee, both D-Mich. She added $4.4 billion to the bill to upgrade, in other words remove the lead from, water pipes nationwide.
Kildee represents Flint, Mich., and Tlaib’s district is next door. Six years after lead entered Flint’s water and poisoned its kids, residents are still drinking bottled water.
HR2 also restores Build America bonds and green building programs. And it has strong Buy America language, including one provision saying that a bus or subway car that’s 70% U.S.-built can’t be classified as 100% American-built any more.
One Democratic amendment on the House floor, which lawmakers agreed to, bans spending any U.S. transportation money in “non-market economies” that violate human rights, and specifically that violate a law Trump signed recently sanctioning China for its concentration camps for its Uighur Muslim minority.
Republicans screamed about not being consulted and voted “no.” Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., former chair of what is now the House Education and Labor Committee, tried to eliminate prevailing wages for federally funded construction, thus cutting building trades workers’ pay while benefiting cut-rate anti-union contractors, She lost. Other Republicans oppose it, too.
Besides the veto threat, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barasso, R-Wyo., called HR2 “a road to nowhere” and refused to schedule hearings on it.
That didn’t stop workers and their Democratic allies from lobbying for it.
HR2, if it becomes law, would “create and sustain good jobs in construction, operations, maintenance, design, and manufacturing,” TTD President Larry Willis said.
“Equally important, by embracing a number of key priorities TTD unions have long fought for, this legislation enhances safety and job security for millions working on the front lines of our transportation system. Important safety provisions include meaningful tools to mitigate the scourge of assaults against transit and passenger rail workers…mandating two qualified crewmembers on most freight trains… and assurances U.S. laws and regulations will apply to cross-border rail operations,” among other provisions, Willis added.
“Our critical infrastructure, schools, and environment were all in dire need of repair, and now as our nation fights COVID-19 the need to rebuild has never been greater,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an Electrical Worker and former president of the South Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council. HR2, he added, also includes his legislation “to reopen and rebuild America’s schools with a $130 million investment, ensuring students and educators are safe and healthy at school each day.”