Two weeks ago, the construction site of the new air traffic control tower at Oakland Airport was bustling with activity. Now, it lays completely dormant. Construction equipment sits unused. Workers wait around, hoping that today will be the day that they can go back to work. But they can’t – all because Congressional Republicans are playing politics with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization. And now, it looks like Congress won’t be acting on the FAA until they return from recess in late September.
Reauthorizing the FAA is generally a standard procedure. In fact, Congress has extended FAA funding 20 separate times without controversy. But the new wave of House Republicans have decided to hold it hostage – despite the fact that the partial shutdown of the FAA would result in $200 million in lost revenue each week, not to mention the 90,000 workers (mostly private-sector construction workers) who will be left jobless, including as many as 5,000 here in California.
Oakland resident Theo Green is one of those workers. After a long bout of unemployment (not uncommon among construction workers who are faced with 30% unemployment), Theo finally got a job at the airport tower jobsite. He’d been there for three months, and then suddenly, late in the afternoon on July 22nd, when the FAA reauthorization was blocked, he found himself out of work, again. Today, at a press conference at the airport construction site, Theo underscored how important this project is for him and other construction workers who have been struggling to find work during the recession:
The past two years have been pretty rough. I’ve only worked a total of six months in two years. I was happy to get working with this project. I’m just trying to be a productive citizen — I’d rather be here working than collective unemployment. I hope the politicians get on the ball and get this project moving again!
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was also in attendance at the press conference, which was co-sponsored by the Alameda Labor Council and the Port of Oakland (view TV coverage here and here). Mayor Quan spoke about the vital role this project plays in Oakland’s short- and long-term economic growth:
The Oakland airport is a growing airport. Tourism is one of the few growing sectors of our economy… If we can’t modernize and expand our airport to make it more efficient to have more flights come into Oakland, that will hurt our goal of increasing tourism long-run. It will hurt immediate jobs, it will hurt long-term jobs, and it’s not necessary. There’s no reason why Congress can’t move this forward.
House Republicans are undertaking this extraordinary disruption of the operations of the FAA for one primary reason – they want to strip workers of the right to have democratic union elections. Like the politically manufactured debt-ceiling crisis, Republicans are using the routine FAA reauthorization to force their extremist agenda on working people. This is yet another example of Republican leaders demanding they get their way at any cost, even if it means hurting local economies and prolonging the recession.
Josie Camacho, Alameda Labor Council:
This control tower wasn’t shut down by natural disaster. There wasn’t an earthquake, there wasn’t a major flood – this FAA shutdown is man-made. Building this town has brought business, business creates jobs, and jobs stimulate our economy. With this shutdown, there is no business, and no jobs, and our economy is not being stimulated.