Archive for March, 2014

3/5/14

Unveiled yesterday, President Barack Obama’s fiscal-year 2015 budget proposes $90.9 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), including $578 million in recommended New Starts projects and $1.4 billion in existing New Starts Full Funding Grant agreements for transit and rail projects.

The budget also calls for $40 million to be spent over two years to support multi-modal prevention and response efforts designed to improve the safe transportation of energy products, USDOT officials said in a press release. The funding is related to the USDOT’s recent efforts to improve the safety of transporting crude oil from the Bakken region via rail. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s office will manage that funding for increased inspections, investigations and research.

Overall, the president’s budget for transportation would invest in the nation’s infrastructure network, increase safety and efficiency, and contribute to national economic growth, Foxx said.

“President Obama has offered the kind of aggressive transportation budget our country needs – one that replenishes the Highway Trust Fund today while also helping ensure the country has a safe, efficient transportation system for tomorrow,” he said. “These funds will do everything from helping communities tackle their transportation to-do lists to improving access to ladders of opportunity.”

FTA, FRA budgets increase

For the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the president proposes $17.6 billion in FY2015 — an increase of $6.8 billion over the FY2014 enacted level — to strengthen transit safety oversight, bring bus and transit-rail infrastructure into a state of good repair, and provide new and expanded transit systems in many communities.

For the Federal Railroad Administration, the president requested $5 billion in FY2015 — an increase of $3.4 billion above FY2014 enacted levels — to invest in rail safety, passenger and rail investment programs. The request proposes $4.8 billion to establish a “National High-Performance Rail System” to support current operations and improve the rail system for the future.

New Starts proposals

Under FTA’s New Starts projects, the president recommended: $100 million for the Westside Subway Extension-Section 1 in Los Angeles; $63 million for the SunRail Phase II-South in Orlando, Fla.; $100 million for the Cambridge-to-Medford portion of the Green Line Extension in Massachusetts; $100 million for the Red Line and another $100 million for the Purple Line projects in Maryland; $65 million for the Columbia River Crossing project in Oregon; and $50 million for the TEX Rail project in north Texas.

Full Funding Grant Agreements

Among the existing New Starts Full Funding Grant Agreements, the president called for: $250 million for the transit-rail project in Honolulu; $150 million each for the Third Street Light Rail-Central Subway project in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley Berryessa Extension in San Jose, Calif.; $150 million for the Regional Transportation District’s Eagle project in Denver; $109 million for the Central Corridor light-rail transit project in St. Paul-Minneapolis; $102 million for the Dulles Metrorail Corridor project extension to Wiehle Avenue in Washington, D.C.; $100 million for the Blue Line Extension-Northeast Corridor in Charlotte, N.C.; $100 million for the Milwaukie Light-Rail Transit (LRT) project in Portland, Ore.; and $90 million for the University Link LRT Extension in Seattle. The budget also proposes $275 million for the Red and Purple Line modernization project in Chicago.

American Public Transportation Association President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy praised the president’s FY2015 budget plan “for increasing investment in transportation and for recognizing the need to address the imminent shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund and the Mass Transit Account before the current transportation legislation, (MAP-21) expires on Sept. 30,” he said in a press release.

“We are pleased to see an increase for critical public transportation infrastructure investments that will create jobs and boost economic development in our communities and our country. We also commend the administration for its continued funding commitment to passenger rail, including high performance rail networks,” Melaniphy said.

via Rail News – Obama’s FY2015 budget would expand transit rail, address crude-by-rail safety. For Railroad Career Professionals.

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3/4/14

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Funding for an expanded bus system serving the greater Indianapolis area has cleared both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly, also opening the door to the possibility of a light rail service throughout central Indiana.

The bill passed by the House Monday would allow Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Madison and Marion counties to raise taxes if voters approve the plan in a referendum.

The Senate plan includes a corporate income tax to help fund the bus system, while the House wants to give counties the option of developing a light rail system. The bills now go into negotiations and if lawmakers don’t reach a compromise by March 14, the proposal dies for another year.

“I’m pretty confident at this point that we’ll work out our differences,” Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, who sponsored the bill in the House, told the Indianapolis Star. “I don’t think we’re that far off on anything.”

The idea for a central Indiana mass transit system first surfaced several years ago, but the proposal has never made it this far in the legislative process.

Supporters insist a mass transit system would enhance the economy. Critics fret about the cost to taxpayers.

Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, said light rail systems elsewhere have experienced major cost overruns.

“This could end up costing taxpayers and rate payers millions of dollars,” he told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “If we don’t understand those risks, how can we expect the public to understand them?”

But Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said the decision about regional transportation should be left up to voters.

“Locals are going to have to decide,” he said. “Locals are going to have to pay for it.”

The House also approved a bill to expand northern Indiana’s South Shore commuter rail line to Dyer, The Times reports. The bill closes a Lake County tax loophole and directs $4 million a year in savings to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to develop or improve public mass transit in Lake County. That money is expected to go toward a local match to obtain federal funds for the expansion of the line that runs between northern Indiana and Chicago.

via Indianapolis mass transit bill clears both Houses – Times Union.

3/3/14

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A Democrat-leaning public interest group filed an ethics complaint Monday against the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, alleging that the powerful real estate lawyer and close ally of Gov. Chris Christie misused his public position to benefit clients.

The New Jersey Working Families Alliance alleges in a complaint to the State Ethics Commission that David Samson violated the state’s conflict of interest law on four separates instances, including voting to approve a parking lot and train station renovation while his firm represented parties that stood to benefit. A phone message left with Samson’s spokeswoman was not returned Monday.

Samson’s name first surfaced in the plot to block approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge, which backed up traffic into Fort Lee apparently to send a message to the town’s Democratic mayor, who did not endorse Christie. Emails and text messages released by the legislative committee show a Christie operative writing that Samson was “helping us to retaliate” after a New York executive ordered the traffic lanes reopened. Samson hasn’t commented on the content of the messages.

Also Monday, the lawyer for Christie’s two-time campaign manager continued to assert that Bill Stepien should not be compelled to turn over private emails and other documents to a New Jersey legislative panel investigating the lane closures.

The legislative panel is also seeking documents from Stepien and fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, who appears to have given the go-ahead for the closings. Both have refused to comply. In a legal filing Monday, lawyer Kevin Marino reasserted Stepien’s right against self-incrimination, saying the act of producing documents would be akin to testifying against himself. A judge ultimately will decide.

In the ethics filing against Samson, the advocacy group cited Samson’s vote to allow the Port Authority to lease a commuter parking lot for $1 per year — a reduction from the $900,000 that had been charged — while his firm represented NJ Transit, the state agency benefiting from the reduced lease.

Samson, the founding partner of the Wolff & Samson law firm and a former state Attorney General, later changed his vote to a recusal. NJ Transit paid Wolff & Samson $1.5 million to help increase parking lot profits.

Samson also voted to approve a $256 million renovation to the Harrison PATH station while his firm represented two land owners who would benefit from the transit redevelopment.

Christie’s office declined to comment Monday, but the governor as recently as Wednesday said he continued to back Samson “strongly” and “firmly.” Samson led Christie’s transition team to governor.

Analilia Mejia, executive director of the advocacy group, said state conflict of interest law clearly states that state officials and agency appointees cannot engage in conduct that violates the public trust, such as voting on a project in which they have financial incentives. She said Samson should have recused himself from all votes in which he appeared to have a financial stake, and he should not have been involved in any related discussions.

The group filing the complaint endorsed Christie’s opponent for governor and took part in a recent commuter protest at the bridge.

Christie recently named a onetime administration lawyer to head the ethics panel where the complaint will be evaluated. Before working for Christie, the panel’s new executive director, Susana Guerrero, spent eight years in the law firm of Bill Palatucci, Christie’s closest political adviser.

Mejia said she expects to complaint to be evaluated on its merits since members of the ethics panel have an obligation to uphold the law regardless of who appoints them.

via Ethics complaint against NY-NJ transit agency head – Times Union.

3/3/14

Southwest Airlines, the nation’s biggest domestic carrier, continued its expansion into international destinations by announcing new daily routes to Mexico and the Bahamas.

The new routes represent only the second batch of international destinations that the Dallas-based carrier will begin to serve starting this summer.

In January, Southwest announced that its first venture into international destinations will be to three beach cities in the Bahamas starting in July.

Southwest said Monday that it is adding daily nonstop service to Cancun and Los Cabos in Mexico and to Nassau in the Bahamas starting in August. The new routes will begin from Santa Ana/Orange County, Atlanta, Baltimore and Milwaukee. In October, Southwest is to begin nonstop flights from Denver to Mexico.

More details are available at the airline’s website.

The move was expected since Southwest acquired AirTran Airways in 2011. AirTran already serves destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Southwest officials said that by the end of the year, the airline plans to serve 96 destinations in six countries, including all the international stops now served by AirTran.

In a blog post, Southwest said it is moving cautiously in taking over AirTran’s routes to reduce the risk of overwelming the training and support staff.

via Southwest Airlines goes south: New daily routes to Mexico, Bahamas – latimes.com.

3/5/14

As a major transportation organization SEPTA prides itself on helping people reach their destination on time.

But whether SEPTA can reach a contract agreement with four of its employee unions with deadlines looming remains to be seen. Those four contracts are set to expire between March 15 and April 7 and just what will happen no one knows for sure.

“We are still optimistic and still working hard to come to an agreement,” said SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams. “The last thing we want is a disruption of any type of service.”

According to the Transport Workers Union Local 234, disruption may well be option. In it’s newsletter, “On The Move” published Monday, the TWU Local 234 said that SEPTA wants to “save money by doing away with our pension plan.”

The current pension plan calls for employees to receive $2,500 a month after 30 years of service. According to the newsletter, SEPTA wants to replace that plan with a 401(k) plan.

The newsletter also said that TWU Local 234 President Willie Brown told SEPTA at the bargaining table that the chances of SEPTA getting that kind of pension change in a plan to pass are “as likely as a fish drowning.” Local 234 has said it is seeking an increase in the monthly pension benefit for future retirees.

Williams could not comment on the exact nature of negotiations, but did say as of Wednesday morning that SEPTA was continuing talks with TWU Local 234.

The TWU newsletter also noted that strike preparations are under way. That would include reaching out to local merchants and supermarkets for discounted food and other essentials and talking to the credit union to make sure emergency loans are available. The next scheduled meeting of the TWU Local 34 is March 10.

The newsletter ends with a bit of warning, saying, “Get ready, when the time comes we may have to act on short notice.”

The first contract set to expire at midnight March 14 is with the TWU Local 234 and would affect SEPTA’s city division in Philadelphia, which would include bus operators, subway operators and mechanics. The TWU Local 234 has about 4,700 members in the city division.

Two more contracts would expire on April 1. One of those is TWU Victory members, which covers maintenance workers in the suburban division.

The other one is the United Transportation Union 1594, which covers bus operators out of 69th Street, operators on the Media and Sharon Hill trolley lines and conductors and operators on the Norristown High Speed Line.

The final contract to expire will be at midnight April 6 and includes employees from the TWU Local 234 Frontier Division. That will include suburban bus operators and mechanics. TWU Local 234 has about 700 worked combined in the other three divisions that are negotiating.

One SEPTA division that would not be affected by a strike is regional rail. That’s because under rules of the Federal Railroad Administration, which is governed by the Railways Labor Act, members cannot strike until going through a complicated mediation process.

Regional rail conductors of UTU Local 61, reached an agreement with SEPTA last fall. The regional rail engineers’ contract expired on July 14, 2010. Those engineers have been working under the old contract since then.

If all or some of the TWU members do strike, it could lead to more crowded rides on regional rail.

“We do have a service interruption plan, but we don’t want people to panic,” Williams said. “Some of our tips will allow folks to be able to use regional rail service where it is helpful for them.

“We will release that plan when it is appropriate. The last thing we want to do is for the union to go on strike.”

The last strike by SEPTA employees was in 2009 and lasted six days. One of the most notorious SEPTA employee strikes was in 1983 and lasted 108 days.

via SEPTA looks to settle contracts with four unions.

March 07, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ — New Yorker Samuel Gompers, first president of the American Federation of Labor, called New York City “the cradle of the American labor movement.” For example, in New York’s first Labor Day parade in 1882, 25,000 workers marched for the abolition of child labor and an eight-hour workday under a Knights of Labor banner. This and other efforts gave New York a reputation as a labor friendly town.

The 19th century saw some modest progress in worker efforts to improve wages and workplace safety. However the event that really galvanized unions into action and eased their acceptance by the public was the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911. Triangle Shirtwaist Co. management had locked all but one of the fire exits to prevent alleged employee theft. As a result, 146 workers, all of them Jewish or Italian women, were trapped and fatally burned or jumped to their deaths. The tragedy helped New York state to pass 36 new laws to strengthen worker safety in the months and years that followed. It also was a pivotal event in the history of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the first union to have a primarily female membership.

There are many stirring stories about past efforts to improve the conditions of working people in New York City. What have unions and labor activists accomplished more recently? What is the contribution of the modern union to workplace safety?

Unions were strong advocates for federal labor safety laws, such as the one that authorized the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1971. They continue to make their voices heard in New York and throughout the United States about issues related to worker safety and on-the-job hazards. For example:

– Several building trades unions protested after a worker fell from scaffolding and broke his leg on a non-union job on West 50th Street in Manhattan. (2014)

– The New York Taxi Workers Alliance provides free blood pressure screenings so members can obtain treatment if they are found to have high blood pressure — a condition that could result in on-the-job accidents. (2014)

– Local 78 of the Asbestos, Lead & Hazardous Waste Workers placed a large inflatable rat in front of a residential building on Manhattan’s West End Avenue to protest the safety record of the contractor renovating the structure. (2011)

– The New York Hotel Trades Council negotiated a contract that guaranteed hotel workers panic buttons they could activate if they felt unsafe while performing housekeeping duties in hotel bedrooms. (2012)

– Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union publishes health and safety newsletters for members. (ongoing)

– Local 237 of the Teamsters Union offers a safety and health guide. (ongoing)

– The United Federation of Teachers offers school safety training for both teachers and administrators. (ongoing)

– New York construction unions, like the ironworkers, latherers, sandhogs, electricians, painters, carpenters, steamfitters and sheet metal workers continue to fiercely advocate on behalf of worker safety laws like New York’s Scaffold Law. (ongoing)

As these few examples show, unions continue to be champions of workplace safety; it is a core value of the labor movement. Health and safety issues have sometimes become contentious during labor contract negotiations. For example, nurses throughout the country have advocated for increased hospital staffing to protect the safety of both patients and union members. It has been an uphill battle for the AFL-CIO and other unions that represent health care workers throughout the United States. However, the labor movement has persevered in the face of often-significant opposition from employers.

Keeping workers safe on the job has been a goal of labor unions since long before the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. It continues today through protests, contract negotiations and member education – activities that improve safety for union and non-union members alike. Union membership continues to decline in the United States; in 2013, the rate of union membership – the number of workers enrolled in unions – was about 11.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, in 1983, 20.1 percent of workers were unionized. Even though there are fewer union members, union efforts to protect the safety of all workers continue to be critical.

via New York City Worker Safety Protected By Labor Unions – Press Release – Digital Journal.