U.S. snoozes while rest of world invests in infrastructure

Megaprojects are proliferating and infrastructure investments are seen as essential to national economies, well-being and pride. By Jon Talton Seattle Times. The tunnel meant to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct seems to say much of what Read more

Less Than Two Weeks to Register for 2015 IAM Legislative Conference

The cut-off date for a special room rate at the 2015 IAM Legislative Conference is April 3. The conference will be held May 11-14 at the Hyatt Regency Washington, 400 New Jersey Ave. NW, Washington, Read more

Cookie-Cutter ALEC Right-to-Work Bills Pop in Multiple States

 By Jody Knauss, PR Watch | This week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an anti-union right-to-work (RTW) bill into law. RTW laws require unions to provide the same representation and workplace services to all Read more

U.S. snoozes while rest of world invests in infrastructure

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seattle tunnel boring crop

Megaprojects are proliferating and infrastructure investments are seen as essential to national economies, well-being and pride.

By Jon Talton Seattle Times.

The tunnel meant to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct seems to say much of what is wrong with American infrastructure.

At $3.1 billion just to replace the viaduct, it sounds outlandishly expensive. Bertha, the tunnel-boring machine, was only recently rescued from useless underground purgatory. It was stuck so long it became a national embarrassment. Comparisons began with Boston’s disastrous Big Dig.

But the Beantown project was much larger. The tunnel price tag is a pittance compared with the $6 trillion or more that America will end

The reality is that America has little recent experience with true infrastructure “megaprojects.” California wants to build high-speed rail despite enormous headwinds. But otherwise, the nation is now spending less on infrastructure than it has in years.

In most cases, the projects are replacing aging structures, such as the viaduct, or are small-scale efforts.

No matter that the American Society of Civil Engineers grades our infrastructure a D-plus, saying $3.6 trillion in investment is needed by 2020.

Or that well-traveled bridges known to be old and risky fall into rivers. That mudslides plague the railroad north of Seattle, including Sounder commuter service and an important freight line for trade, even though the means to solve the problem have long been available. The Columbia River Crossing, and its federal help, went nowhere. ​

Americans, the people who built six transcontinental railroads, Grand Coulee and Hoover dams and the Interstate Highway System among so much else, have lost their way. American projects also cost more than their counterparts in even other advanced nations.

The rest of the world is not napping. Megaprojects are proliferating and infrastructure investments are seen as essential to national economies, well-being and pride.

To be sure, big projects can bring supersize risks.

“We take on one of these when in fact it’s a chain with a million links,” John Stanton, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Washington, told me last week. “It takes only one link to go wrong and it looks like a glorious mess.

“Part of it is a matter of expectations. When we build a new house, builders built lots of them, it’s a small chain. Are we expecting too much (with megaprojects)? To press a button and expect it to go perfectly?”

He pointed to other factors that work against ambitious infrastructure in America today, such as public officials who underplay the technical and managerial risks, as well as design-and-management-by-committee, a recipe for lack of accountability. One example was the troubled Bay Bridge replacement in San Francisco.

“The Brooklyn Bridge was John Roebling’s baby,” Stanton said. ”One name was driving it and made sure all the parts made sense. It killed him. But they built the damned thing, and it worked.”

Another change concerns contracting methods, he said. Today’s design-build protocol, which attempts to fix costs and timing, risks quality. The old design-bid-build method allowed both public and private entities more control over ensuring quality throughout the timeline of the project.

To be sure, the economics of infrastructure are affected by safety and environmental concerns that didn’t exist before the 1970s. At least 20 workers died building the Brooklyn Bridge; at least 96 on Hoover Dam. Also, cities are denser and NIMBYs more vocal.

Yet while some megaprojects push the envelope, incurring 787-like risks, others don’t. I would argue that much of America’s infrastructure deficit comes from lack of political leadership and the consequences of wars and tax cuts.

Some politicians are opposed to rail projects on ideological grounds, even though they are more necessary than ever to address congestion and the automobile emissions that are helping cause climate change.

Aside from the mantra about rebuilding roads and bridges, most politicians don’t find infrastructure sexy, even the type of leading-edge projects being successfully completed elsewhere.

This is doubly bad because infrastructure creates construction and operating jobs, even whole domestic industries.

A national infrastructure bank to invest in work and leverage private capital would also be helpful.

The killer is that with very low interest rates in recent years, this has been an ideal time to finance projects.

But there’s no getting around the problem of high costs in America.

Stephen Moore wrote extensively on the subject for Bloomberg. For example, Spain has the best tunneling industry in the world and the work costs much less than similar tunnels here. New York’s $5 billion, two-mile subway extension is outlandish by Tokyo or Paris standards.

“A huge part of the problem is that agencies can’t keep their private contractors in check,” Moore wrote.

“Starved of funds and expertise for in-house planning, officials contract out the project management and early design concepts to private companies that have little incentive to keep costs down and quality up. And even when they know better, agencies are often forced by legislation, courts and politicians to make decisions that they know aren’t in the public interest.”

So America keeps paying big while falling behind.

But we can also be obsessed with what seems like sticker shock, as UW’s Stanton makes clear.

“Even if projects are oversold at beginning, or they might not have gone ahead, it would look like peanuts later,” he said. “Immediate cost-benefit analyses may be missing out on value. The huge value is in years to come. We need to look at the long term, where many these projects have enormous benefits.”

Less Than Two Weeks to Register for 2015 IAM Legislative Conference

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The cut-off date for a special room rate at the 2015 IAM Legislative Conference is April 3.

The conference will be held May 11-14 at the Hyatt Regency Washington, 400 New Jersey Ave. NW, Washington, DC.

Download the official call letter for more details on the 2015 IAM Legislative Conference.

The IAM Legislative Conference is the perfect opportunity to speak with your elected officials directly about the challenges facing working people. Attendees will not only hear from political activists and politicians, but also spend time lobbying on Capitol Hill.

For a taste of what’s in store, watch a Machinists News Network video on the 2014 IAM Legislative Conference.

Cookie-Cutter ALEC Right-to-Work Bills Pop in Multiple States

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Protesters in Madison, Wisconsin during a rally against Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill on February 26, 2011. Walker's recent support of regressive "Right-to-Work" legislation has laid the groundwork for other states to follow in his footsteps. (Photo: AAraujo / Shutterstock.com)

Protesters in Madison, Wisconsin during a rally against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill on February 26, 2011. Walker’s recent support of regressive “Right-to-Work” legislation has laid the groundwork for other states to follow in his footsteps. (Photo: AAraujo / Shutterstock.com)

 By Jody Knauss, PR Watch |

This week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an anti-union right-to-work (RTW) bill into law. RTW laws require unions to provide the same representation and workplace services to all workers in a workplace but make contributing to the cost of that representation optional. They lead to smaller, weaker unions and lower worker wages and benefits.

The Center for Media and Democracy detailed the fact that the Wisconsin bill was taken almost word for word from the American Legislative Exchange Council “model” bill. (See CMD’s side-by-side here.) And we reported on the Koch and Bradley Foundation funding behind the panoply of usual suspects that flew into the state to testify on behalf of the bill, including “experts” from the National Right to Work Committee, the Mackinac Center and the Heritage Foundation with assists from ALEC “scholar” Richard Vedder and State Policy Network “stink tanks” like the Wisconsin Public Research Institute. And let’s not forget the $1 million in TV ads from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity group.

But the push for RTW continues in multiple states in a variety of forms. From a legally dubious executive order in Illinois to an equally suspect county-level strategy in Kentucky, ALEC’s effort to disable unions as an organized voice for working families marches on.

New Hampshire: Working families won a round last week when two Republicans in the State Senate voted with all 10 Democrats against a RTW bill, resulting in a 12-12 tie which defeats the bill. Even so, two other RTW bills continue to move through the State House. H.B. 658 is taken straight from the ALEC playbook. (See side-by-side here and below.) Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan is a RTW opponent.

Missouri: Missouri has two identical RTW bills (H.B. 116 and H.B. 569) that borrow language from ALEC, sponsored by two ALEC legislators (Rep. Eric Burlison and Rep. Bill Lant respectively.) H.B. 116 bill passed the Missouri House on February 12, the first time a RTW bill has ever been approved in a chamber of the state’s legislature. Despite an overwhelming Republican House majority, 23 Republicans voted against the bill. The legislation now moves on to the State Senate, where Republicans hold a 25-9 majority.

Last night there was an “informational” hearing in the Senate on S.B 127 by ALEC legislator Senator Dan Brown, with key portions taken verbatim from ALEC. (See the side-by-side here.) If the bill also passes the Senate, Governor Jay Nixon has vowed to veto it. On the evidence thus far, and despite a promise from Grover Norquist, Republicans do not have the votes to overturn a veto.

New Mexico: The Republican-controlled New Mexico State House passed a combined public- and private sector RTW bill (H.B. 75) on February 25. ALEC has versions of both these bills and bill author Rep. Dennis Roch is an ALEC member. In an apparent effort to make the legislation more palatable, the measure also includes a 50-cent increase in the state’s minimum wage, to $8.00 per hour. The bill now moves on to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a hearing was held Sunday and a vote is expected this week. Senate Democrats claim to have the votes to stop it. Republican Governor Susana Martinez is a supporter.

Late last night, the Senate’s Public Affairs Committee voted to table the legislation for the session.

West Virginia: Republicans took control of both houses of the state’s legislature in 2014 and ALEC member Rep. John Overington promptly introduced an ALEC RTW bill H.B.2643 (see side-by-side here). However, Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael said recently that, with the session due to end March 14 and the bill still in committee, RTW was dead for the 2015 session. Just to make sure, 6,000 union supporters rallied at the State Capitol on Saturday.

Kentucky: Democrats in both the State House and governor’s office have stymied the corporate push for RTW at the state level in Kentucky. An ALEC RTW bill (S.B. 1) authored by ALEC member and Senate President Robert Stivers, passed in the Republican-controlled Senate but did not make it out of committee in the House. (See side-by-side here.)

The bigger action in Kentucky is at the local level. Since mid-December, ten counties in Kentucky have passed local RTW ordinances, and others are exploring the possibility. Challenging a half-century of settled labor law, the Heritage Foundation and the new ALEC offshoot, the American City and County Exchange (ACCE), are promoting the idea that localities also have authority under National Labor Relations Act to enact RTW. Kentucky’s Attorney General does not share that interpretation and a coalition of Kentucky unions has filed in federal court to overturn the ordinances. This ALEC/ACCE strategy was featured on the front page of the New York Times.

Illinois: Billionaire Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order implementing RTW for Illinois public sector workers and preemptively filed suit in federal court trying to get the current law declared unconstitutional. He has also pushed for enabling legislation to allow Illinois localities to pass Kentucky-style local RTW ordinances. An ALEC RTW bill (H.B. 4139) has been introduced in Illinois, but may not pass in the Democratic-controlled legislature. (See the side-by-side here.)

Michigan: Republican State Rep. Gary Glenn, a founding member of the Michigan Freedom to Work Coalition, has decided Michigan’s 2012 RTW law did not go far enough. Glenn has introduced a bill (H.B. 4312) to extend RTW to the police, fire and public safety unions exempted from the 2012 law, and another (H.B. 4311) that would do away with exclusive representation in the public sector by banning public sector unions from representing non-members.

Other states: A public-sector RTW bill died in committee in the Montana House on February 27. An ALEC-modeled RTW bill died in committee in the Colorado House on Feb. 4.

The Tortured Logic of the Heritage Foundation on Public Transportation

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By Kevin DeGood via Center For American Progress

The Heritage Foundation, never content to promote just one bad idea, has put together something they are calling “The Budget Book: 106 Ways to Reduce the Size and Scope of Government.” Item number 67 on the list calls for eliminating the Federal Transit Administration, or FTA, along with all federal funding for public transportation capital and operating assistance.

This isn’t the first time that conservatives have tried to end federal funding for public transportation. In 2012, the House Republican leadership attempted to pass a surface transportation authorization bill that would have replaced dedicated funding for transit with a one-time, short-term infusion of general fund money. Following a groundswell of popular opposition to this proposal, the leadership was forced to pull the bill and advance a version that maintained dedicated funding for transit programs.

While eliminating federal transit funding remains a terrible policy choice, two factors increase the chances that this option will gain renewed traction. First, the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, recently updated its Highway Trust Fund, or HTF, solvency estimate with a projection that the fund will run a 10-year cumulative deficit of $168 billion and could face insolvency as early as this May. Second, following the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans enjoy control of the Senate and an even larger majority in the House.

In short, conditions are very similar to those in 2012, which provided the impetus for the last failed attempt to eliminate transit funding in favor of highways. It is therefore important to correct the false assertions and poor logic of the Heritage Foundation before they take root in politically fertile soil. Below are some of the false claims made by Heritage, followed by empirically based responses.

Heritage claim #1: “The reasons for funding transit were to offer mobility to low-income citizens in metropolitan areas, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars, and relieve traffic congestion. Yet transit has failed in all of these areas despite billions of dollars in subsidies over the past few decades.”

The reality: Heritage claims that transit funding has failed in all three areas: low-income mobility, pollution, and congestion. This is demonstrably false. First, public transportation offers essential mobility to millions of low-income residents, providing crucial access to jobs, education, and health care, among other services. A 2007 national survey by the American Public Transportation Association found that 35 percent of all transit riders had household incomes that were approximately half the national median household income. Sixty-five percent of riders reported incomes of less than $49,999 (in 2004 dollars), which was slightly higher than the median income at the time. Transit more than fulfills its goal of providing essential mobility to low-income and working families.

Second, research by the Federal Transit Administration estimates that each year, public transportation reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 37 million metric tons. On average, a light-duty vehicle—meaning car, light truck, or sport utility vehicle—emits 0.96 tons of carbon dioxide, or CO2, per passenger mile compared with just 0.45 tons per passenger mile for public transportation vehicles. In addition, compact residential and commercial development built around transit service—often referred to as transit-oriented development—reduces the number of daily vehicle trips by 20 percent to 40 percent compared with the U.S. average. Texas A&M University estimates that transit saves more than 450 million gallons of fuel each year.

Third, transit succeeds in reducing congestion, providing substantial benefit to drivers. Research by Texas A&M University found that removing transit service in just the top 10 metro regions would add 677 million hours of additional roadway delay each year. Contrary to Heritage’s claim, transit succeeds in all three areas by providing essential mobility, reducing pollution and CO2 emissions, and lowering highway congestion levels for drivers.

Heritage claim #2: “Transit is inherently local, not national, in nature, and it would be more appropriately funded at the local or regional level.”

The reality: For Heritage, only activities that are purely interstate in nature are a legitimate activity for the federal government to fund. This claim implies that highway travel is inherently interstate and, therefore, a proper recipient of federal support. As a critique, this falls woefully short. Aside from the fact that the federal government funds many legitimate activities that are inherently local or regional—such as clean drinking water, health care, and community policing—their argument does not work with respect to surface transportation.

The federal-aid highway program provides support for all public roadways functionally classified as anything higher than a rural minor collector or a local road. And while interstate highways tend to receive the most policy attention, they represent less than 5 percent of the total federal-aid highway network. The vast majority of the federal-aid network is designed to serve inherently local driving.

Even more importantly, 73 percent of all vehicle trips are less than 9 miles in length. By comparison, the average unlinked transit trip is 5.4 miles in length, which is both comparable to driving and understandable since many transit trips occur within urban areas where residential and commercial destinations are often close together. Furthermore, only 3 percent of vehicle trips are more than 50 miles in length. In short, the federal-aid highway network overwhelmingly serves a local purpose.

Heritage claim #3: “Motorists in Montana or Texas should not have to see the gas tax dollars they send to Washington diverted to buses and subways, when they expect to see it spent on road and bridge improvements.”

The reality: This claim implies that taxpayers in Montana and Texas export their tax dollars for transit projects in distant cities while receiving nothing themselves. This assertion is wrong for two reasons. First, every state receives transit funding each year. In fiscal year 2014, Montana and Texas received $19.4 million and $628 million in transit funding, respectively. States also receive a substantial highway apportionment for road and bridge work. In FY 2014, Montana and Texas received $396 million and $3.3 billion for highway and bridge projects, respectively.

Second, the implication that Montana and Texas are net exporters of transportation funding—that they pay more in federal gas taxes each year than they receive back through federal programs—is untrue. In fact, no state is a net exporter to the Highway Trust Fund. Due to insufficient gas and diesel tax revenue, Congress has had to backfill the HTF since 2008 with a total of $65 billion in general fund revenues to avert insolvency, which provides every state with more funding than they contribute to the HTF each year.

Heritage claim #4: “The federal government has subsidized mass transit since the 1960s, and it began using federal gas tax (user fees) paid by drivers into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), to pay for transit in 1983.”

The reality: All modes of transportation require subsidy, especially highways, given that gas taxes and other user fees often do not provide enough revenue to cover even basic maintenance. In fact, research by the Center for American Progress determined that 48 percent of interstate and other principal arterial highways—highways that carry the most traffic and therefore generate the most in gas tax revenue—fail to cover their long-term maintenance costs. This result is based on an analysis that makes several conservative methodological assumptions—such as a very low annual construction-inflation target of 1 percent and the exclusion of initial right-of-way acquisition and construction costs—that are favorable to highways. If the analysis relied on less conservative assumptions, the share of highways that fail to cover their costs would increase substantially.

Heritage claim #5: “The transit diversion within the HTF marks the largest such diversion [of highway user fees for non-highway purposes].”

The reality: This critique strongly implies that transit riders do not pay gas taxes or contribute in any way to the Highway Trust Fund. In fact, the opposite is true: Survey research shows that the vast majority of transit riders live in households with a car and pay gas taxes into the HTF. Specifically, 82 percent of transit riders live in a household with a car, and of those, 87 percent use the vehicle more than three times per week. In this way, transit riders contribute gas taxes that support a balanced transportation system that offers multiple options for travel. Federal highway and transit programs ensure that people can effectively match their trip purpose to the most appropriate mode of transportation, as opposed to building a system that forces people to drive.

Unfortunately, none of these facts will likely dissuade the Heritage Foundation from advancing detrimental policy ideas in service of their never-ending quest to “reduce the size and scope of government.” The programs in question are proven successes, and funding reductions would cause predictable harm.

Kevin DeGood is the Director of Infrastructure Policy at the Center for American Progress.

Hundreds of IAM Members Storm Capitol Hill to Stop ‘Fast Track’

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IAM Assistant Legislative Director Bruce Olsson speaks to IAM members before meetings on Capitol Hill.

IAM Assistant Legislative Director Bruce Olsson speaks to IAM members before meetings on Capitol Hill.

Hundreds of IAM members—including a large delegation from airline Locals 846 (BWI), 914 (EWR) and 1759 (IAD, DCA)—today converged in Washington D.C. today to oppose granting the Obama Administration “fast track” trade authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.

If “fast track” authority is granted to the Administration, TPP will be brought before Congress for a straight up or down vote with no opportunity to debate or propose amendments to an agreement that was largely negotiated behind closed doors.

“The TPP was negotiated in secret and we cannot allow the Obama Administration—or any administration for that matter—fast track authority to ram a trade agreement through Congress without knowing what’s in it,” said General Vice President Sito Pantoja. “From the little we know so far, the TPP is another bad deal for American workers, including transportation workers.”

The TPP is the largest free trade deal ever negotiated, covering twelve Pacific Rim countries. While the text has not been made public, leaked texts indicate that TPP seeks to undue recent financial reforms, end Buy American requirements and undermine labor, environmental, patent and copyright, food and safety and other U.S. regulations and incentivize U.S. based business to offshore production.

“We’ve seen what bad trade deals, like NAFTA and CAFTA, do to American communities and the airlines and rails that serve those communities,” continued Pantoja. “We’ve lost jobs, not gained jobs in the U.S. because of these deals. When communities suffer so do the airlines and railroads that service those communities.”

Please contact your U.S. Representative and Senators and tell them to oppose granting “fast track” authority to the Obama Administration.


Beneath Your Feet: The Maintenance Crews That Keep The MBTA Running

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Train wheels to be repaired and or replaced on the floor of the MBTA subway main repair facility in Everett. (Courtesy Karen Hosking)

Via WBUR.org

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that he’s giving a special panel 30 days to come up with recommendations to fix the MBTA’s finances and operations.

And for good reason. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve heard a lot about the failings of the MBTA — about systemic problems and a lack of financing, about bad management and political pitfalls. We’ve heard about maintenance backlogs, old rolling stock and poor service. In short, we’ve heard about a system that already can’t meet demand, even as we demand that it be expanded.

We’ve talked a lot about everything that’s wrong with the MBTA. And, granted, there’s a lot to legitimately complain about. But, it also might be time to take a second to talk about at least one thing that works about the T.

Last year, we visited the MBTA’s maintenance shop. It’s the system’s only repair facility — a 110 square foot warehouse in Everett. Every single part that breaks down on the T — whether it’s a valve, a wheel, a break, or an entire undercarriage — is sent there.

“When you’re standing on the platform, you’re only seeing the shiny part,” says Edward Belanger, a maintenance supervisor of the MBTA’s subway main repair facility. “We handle the stuff underneath. The majority of our work is under the deck.”

Belanger has been at this facility for about a decade, and he’s responsible for overseeing the machine shop, sheet metal shop and electronics room.

“You have a lot of different trades under the same roof,” he says. “It’s very reminiscent of America when companies did everything themselves.”

But very skilled work happens here, too.

“People don’t like it when the wheels come off,” says Belanger.

264 Machinist Glenn Morgan bores a train wheel at the Everett Main Repair facility. Courtesy (Joseph Votano)


When we visited, worker Tony Moccia was inspecting a red line axle for signs of cracks or bends.

“The T is always recycled, but not for green reasons,” says Belanger. “The axle unit you’re looking at, with the resilient coupling, is worth about $11,000. Some of these axles will actually run the entire life of the car without being replaced.”

And the wheels that are placed on those axles are held on by nothing other than an extremely tight, pressed fit — that means no welding, no lugs screwed in like on your car. Just an ultra precise press fit.

“The hole has to be 0.025″ smaller than the axle,” says Belanger. “Just about the width of a human hair. So, if John misses it, either way, we can’t use the wheel.”

John O’Donnell bores the hole to get that red line wheel on the axle. When John is done boring the hole, you’re not supposed to be able to slide anything thicker than a human hair between the wheel and the axle. You would think they would use some kind of laser-guided, computer aided machine.

But, no. With great care and skill, O’Donnell achieves that ultra tight press fit using an almost 80-year-old mechanical boring machine that’s been there since the T moved into the Everett building.

“We don’t throw a lot of wheels away, because John’s good,” says Belanger.

So good that the wheels stay on, until the maintenance crew needs to take them off. It’s no easy task and requires another special — and old — machine.

“Steve and Mike are going to press off a number three wheel,” says Belanger. “They’re removing the wheel from the axle so we can put a new one on.”

And what does it sound like? About 170,000 pounds of pressure. In other words, loud.

“That’s the force it takes to hold one on,” says Belanger. “When you think about the diameter of a human hair, you don’t realize how powerful it can be.”

And with that precision, the crew makes sure that the wheels stay on the red line as it rumbles over the tracks. They also make sure that the train stays steady, even as thousands of riders board, changing the weight distribution on each carriage throughout the commute.

All of that is done, basically, with some valves and an air bag.

“Get on a subway car. You step on that car, and that car is even with the platform,” says Mark Craven, the foreman in charge of the air pressure section of the facility. He’s been with the T for 24 years. “As more people get on the car or get off the car, that wants to move up and down, but we have leveling valves that adjust that automatically, so that when you’re stepping on that car, if it’s an empty car, you’re not tripping over the door. And if it’s a full car, you’re not stepping into a hole in there.”

A subway train uses compressed air to close and open doors or trigger brakes to stop the train. The air tubes need to be descaled after many years of use. This is the purpose of these bluish-gray, cylindrical shaped tools. (Courtesy Joseph R. Votano)


Think about it. When you get on the train in the morning, you — and many other people — cram onto the train. With that extra weight, the car doesn’t sag down, even for a moment. It stays level with the platform and it stays level at the next stop, when more people board. And at stations like Park Street, when many people get off the red line — the car stays level, yet again. All because of a valve.

It’s just another example of the thousands of tiny parts that make up the entire system. And almost all of this maintenance work is done in-house. Belanger points out what’s called a gear unit — basically, the guts of the train: the transmission, the axles, bearings and wheels.

“It actually kind of symbolizes the building itself,” he says. “The pallet was made in our wood shop, the gear unit was rebuilt in the wheel shop, components of it came out of the machine shop and the bearings — the bearing housings — were actually worked on over in our welding or blacksmith’s area.”

Part of the reason they do everything in-house, even crafting things like replacement door hinges and simple things like washers — all from scratch — is because many of the trains are so old, they can’t buy the parts anywhere.

“We’re not a production shop, but we are. And we’re not a prototype shop, but we are. Many of these pieces — like these pieces for the track break — they were designed and manufactured here because nobody makes them.”

Here’s one of the big lessons to take away from this visit — Belanger and his employees are working on anything from blue line trains that are just a couple of years old to the Mattapan high speed line, which has rolling stock that was built back in 1945. Many of the companies that first manufactured those trains don’t even exist any more. Therefore, the T’s machinists are custom crafting individual replacement parts, using unique and really old tools. In other words, their skill really matters.

So, what’s it like to work here?

“It’s awesome. The ability to create has always been something I’ve been fascinated with, and this building has it all. It literally encompasses almost every single trade you would need to fabricate anything,” says Belanger. “We take it serious. There’s this imagery of the T that has a tendency to think that we’re not, like, on the ball, we’re not producing, we’re taking the public’s money. This building is working. It’s bustling the entire time…Those two individuals are responsible for every single wheel that goes on and off every single train in the entire system. Two guys. And it’s like, it doesn’t get more personal than that.”

It’s likely Belanger and his crew are taking the current crisis at the T very personally, and that they’re busier than ever doing what they can, literally and physically, to hold together an aging, underfunded train fleet.

That’s the irony of maintenance work, though. On most days, when the T runs, the work that comes out of this machine shop is invisible. Right now, it’s very visible. And whether or not the MBTA is suffering systemic, financial and managerial failures, the work at the T’s repair facility in Everett goes on.

We were able to learn about the facility and see it first hand thanks to two freelance photographers, Joseph Votano and Karen Hosking, who published a coffee table book in 2014 called “Boston Below” featuring pictures of commuters and some incredible photos of the Everett facility.

Five Reasons Congress Should Oppose the TPP

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There has been a troubling lack of transparency in TPP negotiations, with consultations taking place behind closed doors. If Congress were to grant the president fast track authority, the largest trade agreement in world history might get enacted into law without any meaningful debate. (Photo: GlobalTradeWatch)

There has been a troubling lack of transparency in TPP negotiations, with consultations taking place behind closed doors. If Congress were to grant the president fast track authority, the largest trade agreement in world history might get enacted into law without any meaningful debate. (Photo: GlobalTradeWatch)


As with previous free trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would likely harm rather than benefit American workers, hurt the US economy and not help workers in other countries.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral trade deal currently being negotiated by the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, would significantly expand the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, which was ratified in 2005.

Business organizations, Republicans lawmakers and some Democrats favor giving the president “fast track” authority to get any deal reached by the Obama administration approved with limited congressional review under a statutory mechanism known as trade promotion authority.

The president needs Congress to grant him this authority, but lawmakers should oppose fast track on the TPP. As with previous free trade agreements (FTAs), the TPP would likely harm rather than benefit American workers and hurt the US economy.

Below are five reasons that lawmakers should oppose the TPP.

• FIRST, despite presidential promises of job gains, previous FTAs have resulted in lost jobs, stagnant wages, increasing inequality and other negative consequences for workers. On the 20th anniversary of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimated that almost 700,000 US jobs had been lost as a direct result of the agreement. (In 1993, President Clinton claimed that NAFTA would create a million jobs in its first five years of operation.)

Nearly 60,000 job losses can be attributed to the 2012 US-Korea FTA, EPI reports. Secretary of State John Kerry and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack insist that the TPP would support 650,000 jobs in the United States, but the Washington Post’s Fact Checker awarded their “illusionary” job claims four Pinocchios for “fishy math.”

• SECOND, several countries involved in the TPP have long violated fundamental labor rights. The worst offender is Vietnam, whose government has refused to allow workers the freedom to form unions. Vietnam’s senior advisor on international integration negotiations has stated in negotiations that Vietnam could “not accept [the right to establish unions] requirement.”

Vietnam’s General Confederation of Labor and affiliated unions are essentially appendages of the governing Communist Party, not independent worker organizations. Vietnam also has poor labor conditions, with workers in export manufacturing factories being exposed to hazardous chemicals and blocked emergency exits. Child and forced labor has been used in the textile and brick sectors in Vietnam.

Other TPP countries have problematic labor records. In Mexico, violations of freedom of association are widespread, and child labor and forced labor are problems; in Malaysia, electronics and other goods are produced using child and forced labor, according to the US Department of Labor; in Peru, child and forced labor are commonplace; and in Brunei, which recently adopted Sharia law, the exploitation of foreign workers and discrimination against women are endemic.

US workers should not face unfair competition from countries that systematically violate workers’ rights, or lack the capacity to enforce their own laws or investigate violations. Unless these countries strengthen the protection of fundamental labor rights, corporations will likely shift more US jobs overseas under the TPP.

• THIRD, even as US workers have lost out, workers in less developed countries have not benefitted from previous FTAs. Indeed, in several cases, these workers have seen conditions deteriorate further. The Colombian government has failed to curb widespread violence against union activists under the 2011 “Labor Action Plan” of the US-Colombia agreement. So far, 73 unionists have been murdered under the agreement.

Neither has the Colombian agreement delivered on promises to improve labor conditions. Labor abuses continue in Guatemala under the 2005 US-Dominican Republic Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). As a result of the Guatemalan government‘s failure to effectively enforce its own labor laws in more than 400 instances, the Office of the US Trade Representative initiated the first-ever labor dispute through a FTA in September 2014 – a complaint that was first filed six years ago.

CAFTA-DR has hurt Honduras‘ economy and contributed to recent waves of emigration. At least 31 unionists and 112 rural workers have been murdered in Honduras, and workers are routinely subjected to egregious abuses, according to a report released by the AFL-CIO in January. In recent years, labor violations have been getting worse, the government has weakened labor law, and the amount of permanent work has been reduced. FTAs have not improved respect for fundamental labor rights or uplifted standards, and TPP is unlikely to help workers in poor Asian countries.

• FOURTH, if previous experience is any guide, TPP will likely protect the rights of large investors and corporations at the expense of workers. US Trade Representative Michael Froman insists that won’t happen and that TPP’s labor chapter will cover child and forced labor, special economic zones, and labor standards, including minimum wages, maximum hours and other workplace conditions.

But past assurances have counted for little, especially when workers’ interests clash with the demands of powerful corporations and investors for weaker regulations (“non-tariff barriers to trade”). Labor obligations are rarely subjected to the same enforcement mechanisms as commercial provisions, and corporate rights always trump workers’ rights. There is little reason to believe it will be different this time round.

Finally, there has been a troubling lack of transparency in TPP negotiations, with consultations taking place behind closed doors. If Congress were to grant the president fast track authority, the largest trade agreement in world history might get enacted into law without any meaningful debate. Unless labor rights become more central to trade negotiations, FTAs will continue to hurt American workers, not benefit them.

The administration should ensure that labor standards under FTAs at least conform with the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights At Work, which guarantees freedom of association, the right to collectively bargain, the abolition of child labor and forced labor, and the elimination of discrimination in employment, and it must strengthen and streamline enforcement mechanisms.

US workers have already suffered from decades of stagnating wages as a result of this nation’s poor record upholding international standards on freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining. The last thing workers need is an enormous trade agreement with nations that have even worse labor rights records.

Congress should oppose fast track authority and ensure strong and enforceable labor standards in any future FTAs.

More Than a Game: It’s Time We Put Our Money Where Our Values Are

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January 29, 2015


 The Super Bowl reflects the best of America. Not just because we get to watch some of America’s greatest athletes participating at the highest level in their sport. Nor is it the glitzy, over-the-top halftime shows. It’s not even because the Super Bowl is one of this country’s last communal viewings, with more than 110 million Americans expected to tune in to witness the action in Glendale, Arizona.

No, the Super Bowl reflects the best of us because it epitomizes the Land of Opportunity that rewards hard work — from the athletes on the field, to the broadcast crews, to all of the stadium and support staff it takes to put on a show like this.

While the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks duke it out on the gridiron, the television, radio and online production crews will be doing their magic to make the contest accessible for fans around the world. For the halftime show, talented stagehands will set up Katy Perry’s performance platform quicker than it takes most of us to make a sandwich. And all the stadium and support staff will be busy keeping fans satisfied and making sure things run smoothly. With more money spent on this game — a jaw-dropping $4.5 million for a 30-second commercial and another $11.7 million spent by stadium fans on food, drink and merchandise — it’s no wonder these folks can all get paid good wages.

But the Super Bowl’s impact will also be felt off the field in Arizona this year. Pilots and their crews will safely transport fans to and from the Phoenix area, bus drivers will get folks to the stadium, hotel workers will make sure that these people have a comfortable stay — and don’t forget about the highly-skilled construction crews that built University of Phoenix Stadium.

What do all of these divergent folks — stage builders, TV production crews, transportation and service industry personnel — have in common? Most of them get paid good wages for a fair day’s work, receive health insurance and are treated with respect on the job. As a result, they can provide for their families, go to the movies, enjoy an occasional dinner out and be comfortable members of the middle class living the American Dream.

But not everyone in America is so lucky. With income inequality and the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots front and center in American politics today, what can TV viewers and fans watching the biggest game of the year do to make a difference?

11superbowl_partyThe $1 billion spent on food and beer for Super Bowl parties are a good place to start. When buying snacks for this year’s game, select goodies made by companies that treat their employees well. It’s as simple as grabbing a bag of Lay’s or Ruffles potato chips, Rold Gold Pretzels or a jar of Pace salsa over another brand. With an estimated $184 million spent on potato chips and another $40 million on pretzels for Super Bowl parties, those choices can start adding up — and making a difference.

Want to have a bigger impact? Shop at grocery stores that respect their workers.  Buy your supplies this year at Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons, and stay away from race-to-the-bottom employers like El Super or Walmart.

To paraphrase Henry Ford, paying workers well is good business. Good wages make a stronger America for all of us — your friends, your neighbors and your community. For consumers, supporting high-road employers doesn’t have to mean a lot of sacrifice. If we were to dedicate just 10 percent of spending on products and services made by companies that paid their employees well, the change we would feel in our communities would be obvious and immediate. We need to reward companies that treat their employees humanely, and discourage those who don’t. Those high-road businesses would thrive and the bottom feeders would be forced to either rethink their approach, or wither away.

The buying power of the typical American consumer is an untapped resource. As a country, we’re learning to base some of our purchasing decisions on what may be best for the environment — the green movement. It’s about time that we also base our purchasing decisions on what is also best for America.

Then we can all be winners this Super Bowl Sunday.

Visit Labor 411 for a long list of union-made snacks and beverage

Contract Ratification for MBTA

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Today’s contract ratification meeting for Local 264 Machinists at the MBTA was held at the Mass Bay Credit Union in South Boston.  Every member that was there was given a copy of the Memoradum Of Understanding for the contract that will run from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2018. After the meeting was called to order by President Mastandrea, the floor was opened for any questions that people wanted to ask were asked to and were answered by Business Agent Jimmy Foley as well as members of the negotiating committee.

The MOU was gone over in detail and there was some discussion on some of the changes to language and finally the vote was called for. All members that were in attendance had a vote. There were 121 votes cast.

Results to accept 2014-2018 contract proposal.

YEAS – 109

NAYS – 12

New Officers and executive board members sworn in

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At the January member meeting the new officers and executive board members were sworn in. Congratulations to Vice President Chris Gagne, Executive Board members Ben Sherman, Bob Walker Jr., Jeb Mastandrea,  Mike Haywoood and Trustee Sean Tempesta. We wish you all the best of luck in your new positions.


Also at the meeting newly retired member Jim Bain was presented a plaque that was made by Everett Main Repair Facility Machinist Chris Fernald. Jim was at the MBTA for 32 years. He served the union in many positions and will continue to help in any way he can. We wish him well in his retirement.