Coalition Urges Good Local Jobs in Metro Heavy Railcar Contract

Jobs to Move America organizer Diego Janacua speaks at this morning's rally. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Jobs to Move America organizer Diego Janacua speaks at this morning’s rally. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At a press event in front of Metro headquarters this morning, the Jobs to Move America (JMA) coalition called for companies to create good jobs as they manufacture Metro railcars. Today is the deadline to file income taxes, so the coalition emphasized the need for companies to be responsive to U.S. taxpayers who are footing the bill for these transportation manufacturing contracts.

Shawn Stewart of the L.A. Black Workers Center speaks at this morning's Jobs to Move America event.
Shawn Stewart of the L.A. Black Workers Center speaks at this morning’s Jobs to Move America event.

The national JMA coalition represents a broad range of organizations, including labor, civil rights, environmentalists, and others. Speakers at today’s event included representatives from the AFL-CIO, the L.A. Black Workers Center, Move L.A., Occidental College, and the Southern California Association of Governments.

The rally opened and closed with rousing chants of, “What do we want? Good Jobs! When do we want them? Now!” and “¡Sí se puede!”

Speakers emphasized the need for transportation investments to serve more than one purpose: expanding mobility and also creating quality jobs, especially for disadvantaged workers, including lower-income veterans, women, communities of color, and the formerly incarcerated. Speakers stressed that the generation of quality jobs would create a win-win situation for the contractor and the community.

Metro is in the middle of a $1 billion procurement process to build nearly 300 heavy railcars that will serve the existing Red Line and the expanding Purple Line subways. According to the coalition’s press release, “Metro is one of the first transit agencies whose Request for Proposals included innovative language developed by Jobs to Move America, called the U.S. Employment Plan, that incentivizes companies proposing to build taxpayer-funded transit vehicles to create U.S. jobs.”

Metro railcar bid proposals were due in January. According to one coalition spokesperson, at least two companies, China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation and Hyundai Rotem, are known to have already submitted bids. While local or even domestic manufacturing is not strictly required for the contract, Metro’s selection may take into account bidders’ job creation pledges.

Coalition speakers touted the past job creation successes from Metro’s light railcar procurement with Kinkisharyo. Though it has been the subject of some controversy, Kinkisharyo is currently building light railcars in its Palmdale factory. According to the coalition, the Kinkisharyo contract has resulted in “235 jobs for people facing barriers to employment.” Similar arrangements are in effect for the Chicago Transit Agency, where there is a “Build Chicago” partnership, and Amtrak, though their low demand and high crash standards have delayed domestic train production.

The Metro Board is expected to select its contractor and approve its heavy railcar manufacturing contract in June.

  • qaunitple

    Every extra dollar spent on these rail cars is a dollar not going towards more expansive service, greater frequencies, and other capital spending (like more rail cars!). This is a battle between the interests of a small group of rail car workers vs. the comparatively massive and disproportionately low-income transit riding public. If the unions win this fight, it is the low-income transit users who lose the most (the rest of us can always just drive).

    Progressives have to ask themselves: do transit agencies exist to provide the greatest and most efficient service possible, or are they simply jobs programs? Because there will *always* be a trade-off.

  • LAguttersnipe

    Shit, I would say LA Metro is 50% social service and 49% jobs program and 1% transit. The US has no train industry, so we need to buy trains from other countries that have good trains(glad to see Korea in the game for LA). The stupid “buy america” rules get Unions involved and a whole bunch of red tape and politics, what the public ends up with are SUPER EXPENSIVE trains that are shitty compared to other countries and the trade off argument(JOBS!) are temporary and low in numbers. If I were king I would get Singapore, Korea, Japan and Hong Kong subway folk in a room have them argue about who’s got the bets rolling stock then pay them for it.

  • It’s worth considering the benefits of keeping the manufacturing local or at least in the United States. It has to be weighed against the cost of course, but just because it’s possible to buy something made with slave wages in a country with no environmental standards, doesn’t make it morally right, or something that I want to support with my tax dollars.

    Come to think if it, that raises the interesting question of how well Metro pays the workers that it directly employs. That’s probably a much bigger economic impact than where the rail cars get made.

  • Thank goodness AnsaldoBreda went out of business.

    But, BTW, Chicago’s CTA is getting sued by Canada’s Bombardier for having given their “local production” to a State-Run company from Communist China.

  • “What do I want? Reliable Rail Cars!
    When do I want them? On time or at least as close as possible with spelt out penalties for failure to deliver thusly!”

  • qaunitple

    Since when do Japan and Europe have “no environmental standards” and pay “slave wages”? Why do American companies need to be protected from Japanese and Scandinavian rail car manufacturers, countries with *higher* labor and environmental standards than the U.S.? Do you really have such a low opinion of American companies ability to compete on the global market? Then why do you want us to buy their expensive and/or lower-quality products?

    You are the flip-side of transit-hating conservatives: both of your positions result in crappy public transportation.

  • According to the article China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation is one of the bidders. If they manufacture in China, that would be an example of what I’m referring to. Are you suggesting that Chinese factory workers are well paid and that Chinese cities don’t suffer from atrocious levels of air and water pollution? Plus, a company doesn’t have to have the word “China” in its name to offshore production to some poor country in the Global South. American workers cannot and should not have to compete with workers who make pennies an hour and have to cut through smog with machetes.

  • qaunitple

    I would LOVE to see you go up to a Chinese factory worker who spent the entire first part of their lives doing back-breaking subsistence farming and tell them, “Sure this factory job might pay more than you could ever imagine making as a farmer and enable you to attain a higher standard of living, but it doesn’t meet my arbitrary western standards for health and safety – that western countries themselves never had to meet while they were developing – so back to the fields with you! It’s for your own good.” Your point of view – similar to that of all the anti-trade Trump/Bernie supporters I’ve tried reasoning with – is so incredibly condescending to some of the poorest and most destitute people on earth.

    Here’s an interesting thought experiment: those Chinese factory workers who you so condescendingly describe as slaves will generally go to cities and work as factory workers, nannies, etc. for 1 – 10 years. Then they go back to their villages with their savings (i.e. the money they hadn’t already sent back home while working) and build their entire extended family a compound and/or open a shop or grocery store in the village, freeing their families from subsistence farming for life. So I ask you, where in the western world can you work for 5 years (for “slave” wages, no less) and save enough to essentially retire and support your family for the rest of your life?

    This isn’t to argue that Chinese wages are somehow adequate in the western world or we should drop our standards to theirs, but to point out how, by being so virulently anti-trade and arbitrarily applying western standards to developing countries, you’re against what is essentially the greatest anti-poverty program the world has even seen: trade. Your effective position is that, unless Chinese companies can provide western-level wages and protections (hint: they can’t), millions of Chinese subsistence farmers have to stay that way.

    Back to the topic at hand: fine, exclude China. You still haven’t answered why American companies shouldn’t have to compete with Japanese and European manufactures with equal or better regulations than the U.S. Why do you prioritize a small group of manufacturing workers over the comparatively-enormous transit riding public, who, in the case of bus riders, are disproportionately poor? Why do transit agencies have to act as jobs programs at the expense of transit riders?

  • I don’t fault people in China for doing what they perceive to be in their best interest. Your argument distills the corporate rationalization of the pitifully low wages that Chinese workers get paid. Sure, you can always compare something to something worse, but that doesn’t make it morally right or something I should be willing to support with my tax dollars. It’s like saying “you should be glad that mugger didn’t kill you.” Also, my critique of the appalling levels of pollution in China is far from arbitrary. The air and water pollution levels in Chinese mega cities are widely recognized by medical professionals to be among the worst in the world, and they negatively impact millions of some of the poorest people in the world, largely so that Americans can buy cheap do-dads at Wal Mart.

    In a sense I don’t even blame corporations for offshoring jobs, mainly because I don’t expect corporations to do anything other than try to maximize profits. Why pay someone in America $7.25+ an hour and have to comply with the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, OSHA, rules against child labor, etc. when you could pay someone in China $0.50 an hour (or even less to someone in Vietnam or Bangladesh) and just dump all of your pollution in the nearest river? What I question is why American workers should roll over and accept free trade with countries like China.

    I’m actually more okay with reducing tariffs with countries that are comparable to the U.S. in terms of labor and environmental standards, but even that is problematic in that shipping goods half way around the world jacks up greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we need to be bringing them down, which could be achieved by policies which promote more local production. Solution: global carbon tax.

    And by the way, nothing in this article says what the comparative costs of U.S. or foreign production of rail cars are. I don’t know. My whole point is that promoting domestic manufacturing is a legitimate policy goal, and it could be rational for Metro to buy a domestic product even if it is more expensive, up to a point.


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