Reimagining transportation spending: An economic opportunity we cannot ignore

Reimagining transportation spending: An economic opportunity we cannot ignore
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Renee Brand builds buses for a living and is a leader in a field dominated by men. A bus painter, she is the vice president of Communications Workers of America Local 7304.

In a recent blog post, Renee said that she is "living proof that manufacturing is indeed alive." The problem, she continued, "is that it's difficult for workers like us to compete in an economy where competition is based not on quality, innovation or efficiency, but on a terrible race to the bottom."

Renee is part of the Jobs to Move America (JMA) coalition, a newly launched national organization that is working to change this. With its national headquarters in Los Angeles, the organization has an ambitious goal rooted in creating economic opportunity in transportation.

JMA National Organizing Director Rudy Gonzalves said, "We want to transform the process of public procurement of buses and railcars so that we're doing everything we can to invest in our communities. This is a globalized industry with supply chains all over the world. We want to harness our spending power so that global companies have an incentive to invest in U.S. workers and U.S.-based factories."

Founded in 2013 as a project of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, JMA wants to ensure that public spending on transportation results in the creation of manufacturing jobs for U.S. workers, including those historically excluded from the manufacturing industry. More importantly, JMA is developing an innovative model for a national and global strategy that involves its coalition partners - community, labor, business, faith, civil rights, philanthropic, academic and environmental groups.

Last month, President Obama proposed $320 billion for "clean transportation." A month before that, he signed a $305 billion FAST Act to improve the nation's public transportation system. In California, a high-speed rail project is estimated at $60-69 billion. A few years ago, Amtrak proposed a $151 billion plan for a high-speed train in the Northeast. These are just a few examples of the massive transportation projects funded by taxpayer money.

Now is the time to ensure this public taxpayer money is producing better results for our communities and training the next generation of manufacturing workers. It is the perfect opportunity to ensure our "transit dollars go the distance."

JMA has developed a number of steps to reach its goal. Erika Thi Patterson, senior policy coordinator for JMA said, "With a team of lawyers, researchers, and coalition partners, JMA developed the U.S. Employment Plan (USEP), a tool box of policy resources transit agencies to include as part of their Request for Proposals (RFP) to encourage bus and rail manufacturers can create good U.S. jobs in our communities that need it most."

For the last three years, JMA has been working closely with transit agencies to tailor fit the USEP to meet their specific job creation goals. To date, the USEP has already been adopted by three leading transportation agencies, including Los Angeles Metro, Chicago Transit Authority, and Amtrak.

Once the USEP has been included as part of a transit agency's RFP, companies can disclose job creation information such as the number and quality of U.S. jobs the manufacturer intends to create, new training and apprenticeship opportunities, and how company will create pathways for people who have historically been left out of the industry. Once the contract is awarded, the commitments become part of the executed contract between the transit agency and the company, allowing the transit agency and JMA to hold the company accountable to its commitments.

Last month, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx sent a letter to transportation stakeholders that recognized the USEP as an innovative approach to using public transportation funds to create good jobs in the United States.

Rene's company, New Flyer is an example of a JMA success story. In 2013, the Canadian-based company won a $305 million deal to build buses for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro). As part of the deal, New Flyer committed to making buses in the U.S. and to creating quality jobs for U.S. workers.

The JMA team is now working on multiple projects in California, Illinois, New York and monitoring the industry for upcoming opportunities to maximize our public transportation dollars.

Now is the time. Moving forward, JMA and its partners will continue working to ensure public agencies are held accountable to U.S. taxpayers.

This post was originally published on Progressive Railroading.

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