The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by Chairman Pete DeFazio (D-OR) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (D-OR), held a hearing June 9 to examine the effects of COVID-19 on transportation workers. The hearing sought to examine the main challenges transportation workers are facing as a result of the pandemic, and discuss what measures Congress should take in response.
During their opening remarks, the witnesses expressed concern over the safety of frontline transportation workers. Issues discussed at the hearing ranged from increased safety measures for transportation employees to overall effects on the supply chain and economy as well as liability protections for businesses. Witnesses also testified about the need for Congress to pass infrastructure legislation. (The House T&I Committee unveiled its draft surface transportation bill, INVEST in AMERICA Act, and is expected to mark up the measure in coming days).
A central topic of discussion was the bipartisan call for more safety protections for transportation workers. Representatives Eddie Bernice-Johnson (D-TX), Anthony Brown (D-MD), and Bruce Westerman (R-AR) each expressed their support for more safety measures to support frontline workers, especially truck drivers.
Larry Willis, President of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, pushed Congress to build on the framework of the HEROES Act and “provide similar critical protections for all frontline transportation workers.” Similarly, LaMont Byrd, Director of Health and Safety International Brotherhood of Teamsters, called for “strong legislation” to protect the transportation workforce, and expressed his organization’s support for an emergency temporary standard on airborne infectious disease issued by OSHA. He also argued against modifying the minimum driving age for commercial motor vehicle operators.
Randy Guillot, Chairman of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), said the “single most important action” that the Committee can take for transportation workers is to pass an infrastructure bill, and said Congress must “ensure state officials keep public rest areas open.”
Byrd criticized the pace at which states are reopening. In response to a question from Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) about the FMCSA’s Hours-of-Service (HOS) waiver, Byrd said he does not support the waiver and that it will cause a “significant increase” in the number of occupational injuries that occur.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Rep Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) said operators should be provided with N-95 masks.
Another main issue highlighted by Members was the strain on supply chains and economic recovery. Ranking Member Graves and Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) expressed concern that the long-term reliability of supply chains is being threatened by pandemic-related changes in demand for freight systems.
Guillot projected that the industry will not see a return to normalcy until the end of 2021. When asked by Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) what policies the trucking industry wants to see from Congress to aid recovery, Guillot highlighted his concern with “frivolous lawsuits” and reiterated his strong support for an infrastructure package. Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA) and Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) echoed Guillot’s concerns about liability protection. Rep. LaMalfa also expressed his support for suspending the federal excise tax on new truck equipment purchases.
When asked by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) what effects the 10-day shutdown of rest stops in Pennsylvania had on the supply chain, Guillot said it “disrupted the general flow of commerce” throughout the state. Rep. Andre Carson (D-IL), Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH) and Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC) also expressed concern about the growing demand for truck drivers.
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