March 24, 2020

T&I Committee Helps Secure Key Provisions for Workers and Families in New House Bill to Address the Impacts of the Coronavirus

Washington, DC – The House Democrats’ newly-introduced legislation, H.R. 6379, the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act,” includes multiple provisions that will help millions of workers in the aviation, railroad, and public transit sectors, as well as families that are at risk of losing water and wastewater services during the coronavirus crisis. Importantly, the bill also puts critical guardrails on financial assistance for air carriers, meaning taxpayer-funded relief goes toward paying the estimated 2.1 million workers in the U.S. aviation industry and protecting their benefits, like health insurance and retirement accounts – not stock buybacks, not executive giveaways, not layoffs. Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) emphasized these principles in the most recent Democratic Weekly Address.

The wide-sweeping legislation, which was introduced Monday by U.S. House Committee on Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, incorporates provisions from multiple Congressional committees, including the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. (Read more about the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” here.)

Among the transportation-related provisions:

Relief for public transit agencies: Provides $25 billion to keep public transit operational so healthcare workers and other essential employees can get to work.

Relief for Amtrak: Provides $1 billion to sustain Amtrak’s passenger rail network, including state-supported routes and protections for Amtrak workers.

Relief for railroad workers: Waives the waiting period for obtaining railroad unemployment and sickness benefits, and creates parity for unemployed railroaders through increased and extended unemployment benefits.

Relief for low-income household in the form of drinking water and wastewater rate assistance: Provides $1.5 billion to make sure low-income households continue to receive water and wastewater services regardless of ability to pay; also prohibits water utilities that receive assistance under the bill from shutting off household water services during the national emergency.

Relief for airports: Provides $10 billion for airports to use on infrastructure projects, cleaning, sanitization, janitorial services, staffing, workforce retention, airport operations, emergency response, debt service payments, and other needs. Requires airports retain 90 percent of their workforce and provide relief to airport concessionaires.

Relief for nearly one million aviation workers, including contractors: Provides $37 billion in grants, passed through by employing air carrier, to ensure approximately 750,000 employees of mainline, regional, and cargo airlines receive their regular paycheck. Provides an additional $3 billion to keep employees of ground support and catering contractors on the job. Provides $21 billion in unsecured loans to air carriers that are zero interest to start, but requires that over time loans must provide for payment of interest at rates commensurate with the level of risk assumed by the Government.

Ensures airline accountability: Prohibits airlines receiving financial assistance from repurchasing shares of stock or issuing dividends to shareholders; caps CEO pay and golden parachutes.

Labor protections: Among other things, ensures airlines follow CDC and public health authorities guidelines for providing safe conditions for workers, including personal protection equipment; requires airlines to designate at least one seat on their boards of directors for labor union representation; ensures employee healthcare plans remain in place for furloughed workers; requires airlines to maintain at least $15 minimum wage for all employees and contractors for 10 years; and requires airlines to provide paid sick and medical family leave during illness, quarantine, or school closings related to the pandemic.

Airline industry oversight: Establishes a new office within DOT to conduct financial oversight of the airline industry and ensure airlines are better prepared financially for future “black swan” events such as a pandemic like COVID-19.

Consumer protections: Prevents price gouging during a disaster or emergency such as the current pandemic and requires carriers to offer fare refunds for flight cancellations during a national emergency. 

Reducing carbon pollution in aviation: Among other things, encourages development and use of sustainable aviation fuels; expands a low-emissions program for airports; and requires air carriers receiving federal assistance to fully offset carbon emissions beginning in 2025 and reduce their own carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2035 and 50 percent by 2050.

Additional resources: The text of the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, H.R. 6379, is here. A summary of H.R. 6379, including all the provisions secured by the T&I Committee, is here.