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Testimony of Richard L. Trumka Before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America

Richard L. Trumka
02/01/2017 10:00 am

Chairman Shuster, Ranking Member DeFazio, members of the committee—it is a pleasure to be here with you today.

This committee is known for working together, setting aside partisan differences and getting things done for the good of the country.

In recent years, you have passed many pieces of important legislation, and this year will bring FAA reauthorization and hopefully a major new infrastructure package.

Our nation’s challenges are great and the task ahead is daunting. We are all familiar with the American Society of Civil Engineer’s estimate that our infrastructure deficit is approaching 4 trillion dollars. Yet closing that gap is only a first step. The reality is, our infrastructure is rapidly becoming technologically obsolete. To truly be competitive in the 21st century, we must invest in the transformative infrastructure of the future—this century’s version of the transcontinental railroad and the national highway system.

Our failing infrastructure may be an obstacle and a challenge, but fixing it is a powerful opportunity. During his campaign, President Trump spoke about 1 trillion dollars in new infrastructure investment. This is the right scale to be talking about—trillions—and the labor movement is ready to work with this committee to turn words into action.

Look at this panel before you. Business and labor may not agree on a number of things, but we do agree on the need for serious investments in America’s infrastructure. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, there is no clearer mandate from the American people.

It should surprise no one that infrastructure is a top issue. The American people have endured an infrastructure that has been underfunded and crumbling for decades. We want investments that create good jobs and meet the real needs of our economy. Any other path takes us backward, because investments in infrastructure create the foundation for a long-term growth. Building the infrastructure of the 21st century is vital to both our nation’s competitiveness and to the hopes of all working people to lead better, more prosperous lives.

The labor movement is ready to fight, here in Washington and across our great nation, to see a transformative, inclusive infrastructure program enacted. We need to bring 21st century technology and good jobs to our entire country—to places as diverse as West Baltimore and my rural hometown of Nemacolin, Pennsylvania. And once that investment is made, the labor movement stands ready with the most highly skilled and well-trained workforce to get the job done.

One trillion dollars in new infrastructure investment would make a big difference to working Americans and put our nation on the path to sustainable prosperity. How we invest matters, it must be real investment and create good jobs.

Let me be clear: If we want good jobs, we must have high labor standards and protections for the people who build, maintain and operate our infrastructure. That’s not all. We need to make sure public money is used to support American jobs, American resources and American products. Finally, it is imperative that we invest at the lowest cost of capital to the public—anything else simply sacrifices jobs to Wall Street.

Finding significant sources of funding may be politically difficult, but the cost of inaction is high, it’s real and it’s growing. Labor has and will continue to consider all types of funding, including our traditional support of user fees to fund surface transportation. Done right, other sources of revenue could help, however, solving our nation’s vast infrastructure needs will require major levels of public investments.

I’ll be blunt. We need to be bold. We need to be aggressive.

We need to be the America that can, not the America that can’t.

We are eager to work with leaders of both parties to make this investment a reality.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

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