Unions win Jobs, Infrastructure, Pension Plan Improvements in Surface Transportation Bill
July 6, 2012
Intense lobbying by unions of the Building and Construction Trades Department and others over the need for improvements to America’s infrastructure finally took shape on June 29 when Congress voted to reauthorize federal funding for surface transportation.The bill will go to President Obama’s desk for his signature.
Final passage will put thousands of construction workers to work on projects from rebuilding 80,000 deficient bridges to dredging harbors and building roads.
The bill also contains language that will benefit workers covered by defined benefit pension plans, a measure that was the subject of a June 15 letter from International President Hill to members of Congress.
National League of Cities’ President Ted Ellis said:
The House passed the bill by a vote of 373-52. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 74 to 19. All of the votes against the bill came from Republicans.
Included in the bill is the Realize America’s Maritime Promise Act (RAMP), a measure that will put thousands of construction workers, Seafarers and Teamsters on the job by dredging key American harbors to enable them to receive larger ships from a widened Panama Canal.
RAMP mandates that monies that are held by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, coming from maritime commerce taxes collected from shippers be used solely for harbor improvements. While the fund—established in 1986—contains nearly $6 billion, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives decried the fact that some of the funds were diverted away from port improvements.
A press release from a coalition of RAMP supporters—including the Chamber of Commerce, industrial interests and unions states:
The RAMP supporters, calling themselves the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund’s Fairness Coalition, add:
John Walsh, International Representative, IBEW Political/Legislative Department, who attended briefings on RAMP, says:
If this bill hadn’t been passed, says Walsh, U.S. employers in the shipping industry could have faced the prospect of heightened competition from China-based shipping companies that are already buying up port facilities in Costa Rica to divide the cargoes of ships that would be too large to make it to major ports that had not been dredged.
Pension language in the highway bill will help insure the long-term retirement security of workers and retirees while simultaneously assisting American companies that continue to provide defined benefit pension plans by modifying some provisions of the Pension Protection Plan of 2006.
Those provisions require employers to make what International President Hill described in his letter to Congress as “immediate, excessive and unnecessary contributions to their pension plans.” This places more pressure on companies to opt out of or reduce payments of defined benefit plans.