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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

Biden signs Infrastructure Act. City, DC 37 win


On an autumn afternoon, at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, the nation took a huge step toward a brighter, greener future when President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law.

The Nov. 15 signing ceremony ended a chapter in the long struggle of moving away from decades of retrograde economic policies and addresses the need to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It also introduces principles of economic and social equity to a nation recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

District Council 37 and AFSCME, DC 37’s national union, strongly backed the legislation, which is expected to provide good, new Green jobs to help in the recovery from the pandemic.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said the legislation is a means to “Build Back Better”— an economic reset toward creating a sustainable New York City with solid investments in at-risk communities hit hardest by the pandemic and training union members in Green jobs.

“I applaud Congress in passing this legislation,” Garrido said. “But it is only the beginning of a process in rebuilding our city’s economy for a sustainable, Green future. Our members will be a major part of this, and our work begins now.”

The new law, which passed the U.S. Congress with bipartisan support despite a whirlwind of opposition from right-wing special interests, provides $1.2 trillion in desperately needed investments in public transportation, high-speed internet access, and public works projects, among other progressive initiatives nationwide.

The economic impact for New York City is decisive.

The city’s share of funding offers an opportunity for a transformational change. This money provides a fair economic recovery. This also moves New York City toward the goal of a sustainable city.

In a statement by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, he detailed how the new law impacts the state and New York City.

“Whether it’s our mass transit system, critical bridges or highway repairs, fixing our subway tunnels, safety improvements at our airports, bridging the digital divide, or ensuring clean drinking water for all, this bill will rebuild and revive the Empire State’s infrastructure and create good-paying jobs for communities that need it most,” Sen. Schumer said.

For New York City, the Act includes nearly $450 billion in infrastructure improvements for JFK and LaGuardia airports, $58 billion toward regional rail transit, including $12 billion toward the intercity rail system with high-speed rail; and money earmarked for work on the MTA and Long Island railroad, the Gateway Tunnel, access to Penn Station, the Second Avenue subway line, and the East River tunnels.

Money also will go toward the city’s ferries, completing an HOV lane to the Staten Island Expressway, and for bridge and highway repairs.

Specific green initiatives are included in the Act, such as upgrades to the city’s sewer system to head off future catastrophic storm flooding such as what happened during Superstorm Sandy in 2012; $142 million is allocated for more electric vehicle charging stations; and $9.8 billion is directed toward environmentally clean buses and mass transit.

The Environmental Protection Agency will receive $90 billion to provide grants and loans for water quality and infrastructure statewide, including $55.4 billion in supplemental emergency funding for projects to provide clean water and pollution mitigation in the state’s and city’s waterways.

Garrido said he is hopeful that the focus on green infrastructure will positively affect the DC 37 Green Jobs Training Initiative launched in May of this year.

By September, this DC 37 Education Fund program provided 77 students with technical training, environmental literacy, and hands-on experience since classes began. Seventy-one were awarded certifications from the Urban Green Council that fully prepared them to work on Green construction, rehabilitation, and other infrastructure projects in the future.

The Education Fund has applied for another grant for additional funding to train more union workers and expand the program to those wishing to become involved in Green energy, efficiency, and building construction jobs.