AFL-CIO Flexing Its Muscle for Senate Transit Operating Aid Bill

The AFL-CIO, a formidable lobbying force in Washington, is throwing its weight behind a Senate bill offered last week that would authorize $2 billion in emergency funding for transit agencies forced to hike fares or cut service in lean budgetary times.

JesseJacksonPhoto.JPGRev. Jesse Jackson, second from left, has joined transit workers' unions in their Save Our Ride campaign. (Photo: Streetsblog NYC)
"Unless the U.S. Senate passes" the transit operating legislation, the union's Mike Hall wrote in a Friday blog post, "working families who count on public transportation systems in communities across the country will face even more severe fare increases and service cuts and transit workers are looking at further layoffs."

The president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department, Ed Wytkind, also pushed for passage of the Senate bill in a National Journal guest blog post this morning. The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union, both AFL-CIO members, have aligned with Rev. Jesse Jackson, environmental groups, and civil-rights advocates for a campaign dubbed Save Our Ride that seeks to stave off sweeping transit cuts in major cities.

The unions have several hurdles to clear before the transit funding becomes available, however. The Senate legislation contains only authorizing language, meaning that lawmakers must quickly follow with "appropriating" language that technically disburses the operating money.

That two-step process would have been accomplished quickly by attaching the transit aid to a larger bill that is considered "must-pass" by Congress, such as the upcoming supplemental funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Republican senators vowed early on to oppose any attempt to add unrelated spending to that measure, and the Senate passed its version sans transit aid before adjourning for the Memorial Day recess.

That leaves room for the AFL-CIO to generate momentum for another vehicle to carry the transit funding -- but given the resistance among both House and Senate Democrats to any new spending not offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, the union may face an uphill battle this summer.