By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, June 3, 2020
The coronavirus has brought the American economy to its knees. During the last 10 weeks, more than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment, forced out of jobs by a pandemic that has shuttered businesses, many never to reopen again.
COVID-19 is the biggest calamity to hit the U.S. workforce since the Great Depression. Getting people back on the job is not just going to magically happen – it is going to require a detailed federal plan that not only puts people to work but improves the nation so it can return to its rightful perch as a shining light to the world.
Doing so will require some innovative thinking. There is a place, however, for some tried-and-true ideas. And that means one thing – infrastructure investment.
Some 85 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt put Americans to work by making massive public dollars available to rebuild a nation in distress. Now, we need a 21st century version the rebuilds roads, bridges, public transit, airports, water systems, power grids, broadband networks and more.
Most Americans use these systems every day, including hundreds of thousands of Teamsters, be it as truckers, railroad workers, bus drivers, building tradesmen and others. Our nation’s failure to maintain and improve this infrastructure is costing Americans. The irony is that increased infrastructure spending is widely supported, with a recent poll showing 80 percent back it.
There is a lot of work to be done, especially here in Michigan. A 2018 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state a “D+” grade for its infrastructure, noting an additional $4 billion in funds is needed to improve its pothole-pocked roadways, crumbling bridges and substandard water systems.
In just the last few weeks, Michiganians have seen firsthand what happens when infrastructure fails. Two dam breaches caused severe flooding and forced thousands of residents of Midland County to evacuate.
Increasing investments in necessary networks is essential to turning the economy around. Why? Because infrastructure jobs, unlike those in other sectors, can’t be outsourced. They improve living standards for all Americans, including the men and women who help to repair and maintain roads, bridges, ports, airports and mass transit systems, along with those who earn a living transporting goods and the vast majority of Americans who use our transportation networks every day.
Getting a bipartisan plan signed into law is a challenge that President Trump and congressional leaders are going to have to come together to solve. More funds will be necessary to get it done. The importance of doing so, however, cannot be dismissed.
The gains from making such investments go beyond better infrastructure. Rebuilding, repairing and reinvestment is also about rebuilding and repairing the trust between government and workers by reinvesting in the people that have and can continue to make this nation great. Better pay will lead to more spending and improve the economy at a time it is desperately needed.
There was a time when building roads and rails weren’t just political issues – they were American values, something everyone could support. The leadership in Washington, D.C. has an opportunity to return to that era right now by breaking political gridlock. Americans need that now more than ever.