April 27, 2022

Chairs DeFazio, Norton Statements from Hearing on Workforce Development in Surface Transportation Construction

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) during today’s hearing titled, “Examining Workforce Development and Job Creation in Surface Transportation Construction.”

Video of DeFazio and Norton’s opening statements are here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Madam Chair, for holding this important hearing to examine workforce needs and opportunities in the surface transportation construction sector. Thanks to the hard work of this committee, Congress recently enacted the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill that provides historic levels of funding—$660 billion over five years—to rebuild and modernize our nation’s transportation infrastructure. This includes over $400 billion in highway and major projects funding, $107 billion in transit funding, and $102 billion for rail.

This significant investment will generate demand for thousands of new positions in the construction trades. As development of transportation projects gets underway, we need to make sure there’s a qualified workforce available to meet construction hiring needs.

The construction sector has long provided high-paying careers to individuals looking for an alternative to a traditional four-year college degree.   

Worker protections, such as Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements, have been and continue to be critical to prevent wage degradation and ensure laborers are paid fair market value for their work.  But the structure needed to ensure workers can succeed in the industry goes beyond baseline protections—it’s essential that new workers entering the industry have access to and receive adequate training and support to gain the experience and skills necessary to move into journey-level positions. And it’s essential that these opportunities are available equitably to all who want to enter the industry.

I’m pleased to welcome the Executive Director of the Oregon Tradeswomen, Kelly Kupcak, who is testifying on behalf of the National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues. My home state of Oregon has been on the forefront of addressing the historical underrepresentation of women, minorities, and disadvantaged individuals in the construction trades. Just recently METRO, the metropolitan planning organization in Portland, and its regional partners adopted the Construction Career Pathways Regional Framework and signed the first-of-its-kind Regional Workforce Equity Agreement. These coordinated efforts will help ensure delivery of infrastructure projects in the Portland metropolitan region and provide career opportunities for women and minorities in construction.  I look forward to hearing how Congress can support these and other efforts to increase diversity in the construction workforce and ensure that employment opportunities are distributed equitably.

We also have work to do to ensure that workers in the communities where projects are built reap the benefits. Thanks to the IIJA, state and local transportation agencies are now able to require that a percentage of the workforce hired to build federally-funded transportation projects comes from the local community. This authority, commonly referred to as “local hire,” was previously only authorized through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pilot programs.

I’m eager to hear from Director Lew of the Colorado Department of Transportation today about their experience working with developers, community colleges, and local organizations to successfully set and meet local hiring goals on their Central 70 project. Colorado is just one example where projects have been successfully delivered while also providing employment opportunities for the surrounding communities. I look forward to hearing from the rest of our panelists about other ways of leveraging federal investments to generate economic opportunities in the communities where these infrastructure projects are being built.

 I thank each of the witnesses assembled here today, and I look forward to this important discussion.

Chair Norton:

Welcome to today’s hearing on examining workforce development and job creation in surface transportation construction.  I want to thank the panel for being with us today and for your flexibility as we rescheduled this hearing from its original date, so that Members could attend the memorial service for our longtime committee colleague and my friend Don Young.  Don devoted his life to serving his fellow Alaskans, serving 49 years in the House, including several as Chair of this committee.  His passion and breadth of experience will be greatly missed by all of us here on the committee.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was enacted last year, authorized more than $660 billion for our nation’s roads, bridges, transit, railroads, airports, ports and other transportation infrastructure.  A historic investment of this size will require a diverse, qualified construction workforce to ensure these projects are carried out on time and will be built to last.

The construction trades offer fulfilling and high-paying careers, supporting thousands of workers and their families.  Yet too often barriers, such as transportation costs, childcare, or lack of access to training and other support, hinder the ability of women, minorities and disadvantaged individuals to access jobs in the construction sector. According to the latest industry data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for just 11 percent of the construction workforce, and African Americans account for only 6.3 percent.

As we will hear today, a key effort in breaking down these barriers has been through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s On-the-Job Training and Supportive Services program.  This program supports state training programs that offer recruitment, skills training, job placement, career counseling and other services to help women, people of color, and others obtain quality careers in the construction industry.  I am especially interested in hearing from Ms. Tunya Smith, Director of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Office of Civil Rights, about her department’s experience working with the OJT-SS program and what outcomes they have been able to achieve. 

In addition to increasing workforce diversity, we must also ensure that federal dollars for infrastructure projects flow through to the community.  Last May, I was proud to stand with Secretary Buttigieg in front of D.C.’s own Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge to announce the reinstatement of DOT’s local hiring initiative pilot program, now permitted by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.  Through local hire, we can revitalize local communities and provide meaningful, good-paying jobs in construction to individuals living in low-income areas or areas with high-unemployment.

These initiatives are a good start.  But Congress must continue to be vigilant to ensure that the historic investments in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act support a diverse workforce that is qualified to meet the demands of building 21st-century infrastructure.

Thank you to each of our witnesses for being here today.  I look forward to hearing how each of your organizations supports these goals, and how Congress can continue to support good jobs in the surface transportation construction.