WASHINGTON — By unanimous voice vote, former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) was confirmed by the Senate Jan. 22 as President Obama’s transportation secretary. A day earlier, the Senate Commerce Committee enthusiastically recommended the confirmation.

LaHood becomes the 16th transportation secretary since DOT was created by Congress in 1967. A listing of his predecessors is found, below.

Over the next week, LaHood is expected to meet with prospective modal agency heads and make his recommendations for nomination to the Obama transition team.

Among DOT agencies of special interest to UTU members for which chiefs are to be nominated are the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration. A nomination to the three-member Surface Transportation Board also is expected.

LaHood now heads the 60,000-employee DOT and its various modal agencies that regulate transportation safety, administer Amtrak and highway funding, and regulate railroad mergers, abandonments and freight rates paid by captive shippers.

At his confirmation hearing, LaHood expressed strong support for Amtrak and increased funding for the national intercity rail passenger network. He said he also would focus on public-private partnerships to increase funding sources for projects bringing roads, bridges and other forms of infrastructure to “a state of good repair.”

Additionally, LaHood expressed support for new infrastructure spending to improve freight transportation by rail, and he supported and increased spending on commuter transit programs.

LaHood said his position as a Republican member of a Democratic president’s cabinet will enable him to find consensus on a variety of issues affecting transportation policy.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), told LaHood that “after years of neglect, Congress finally passed a long-term Amtrak authorization last fall that provides strong support for our national railroad. As secretary, I will be looking to you and the department to fully and quickly implement this bill and to further pursue the development of high-speed rail corridors in areas where such service can help alleviate highway and aviation congestion.

“On the freight rail side,” said Rockefeller, “I’m hoping you’ll help us develop ways to improve competition and service in the railroad industry while ensuring that the railroads are able to adequately invest in their infrastructure to meet growing demand.”

Without being specific, LaHood said that if he is confirmed as DOT secretary, safety would remain the “central focus” of DOT.

LaHood, 63, was chief of staff for former House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-Ill.) for 10 years before Michel retired and LaHood replaced him in Congress. LaHood took office in 1995 as Republicans gained control of the House for the first time in 40 years, and relations between the GOP and congressional Democrats were at a low ebb.

At his confirmation hearing, LaHood was praised by his Illinois colleague, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who introduced him at the hearing, for efforts to improve relations between Democrats and Republicans.

Earlier this week, the Senate confirmed former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary.

The nomination of former Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), to be labor secretary, remains stalled in the Senate owing to Republican opposition to her congressional support for the Employee Free Choice Act.

The AFL-CIO called Solis a longtime friend of the labor movement. It observed that while in Congress, she not only voted for the Employee Free Choice Act, but also voted to raise the minimum wage, protect the wages of construction workers, strengthen fair and equal pay laws for women, and to impose tough workplace safety standards.

Previous transportation secretaries:

Alan Boyd, January 1967 – January 1969

John Volpe, January 1969 – February 1973

Claude Brinegar, February 1973 – February 1975

William Coleman, March 1975 – January 1977

Brock Adams, January 1977 – July 1979

Neil Goldschmidt, August 1979 – January 1981

Drew Lewis, January 1981- February 1983

Elizabeth Dole, February 1983 – September 1987

Jim Burnley, December 1987 – January 1989

Sam Skinner, February 1989 – December 1991

Andrew Card, February 1992 -January 1993

Federico Pena, January 1993 – February 1997

Rodney Slater, February 1997 – January 2001

Norman Mineta, January 2001- July 2006

Mary Peters, October 2006 – January 2009

By Vic Baffoni
Vice President, Bus Dept.

The Bush Administration did it again.

Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters extended the right of foreign-operated trucking and transit companies to operate across the U.S. border without requiring them to even have a minimum of safeguards for U.S. citizens on U.S. roads.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires U.S. licensed drivers to be tested, certified and comply with numerous laws and rules.

Yet foreign drivers do not have to abide by any of these requirements.

Equipment inspection, certification of ability to operate equipment, drug testing and hours of service requirements have made our roads safer.

The UTU has protested loudly and has a commitment from Rep. Jim Oberstar (D.-Minn.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, to overturn Ms. Peters’ action. We are committed to our members and the riding public to keep the roads safe for them and their families.

The UTU Bus and Legislative Departments continue to fight the mandated changes to drug testing (observed testing).

We have joined with the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO to make a concerted effort to protect our members’ personal rights.

To contact me, call the UTU International headquarters at (216) 228-9400, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., EDT.

Send e-mail to me at v_baffoni@utu.org

By Vic Baffoni

Bus Vice President

UTU-represented bus operators and mechanics can take great pride in their accomplishments the first half of 2008, but there remain many hurdles to overcome.

The final DOT rule on drug and alcohol testing for holders of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) goes into effect Aug. 25. DOT ordered that all specimens be tested for validity, which means adulterants and urine substitutes. Also, observed collections will now be required, rather than be an option, for all return-to-duty and follow-up testing.

Holders of CDLs and commercial learner permits (CLPs) face many tougher rules, and the UTU will be there every step of the way to protect the rights of its bus members.

We still have numerous contracts to negotiate before the end of the year, and there also are many pending arbitration cases. This office has an open-door policy: Any UTU officer is encouraged to call my office for assistance anytime.

Thanks go out to Alternate Vice President-East Rich Deiser for his excellent handling of the TNM&O merger and acquisition by Greyhound. Brother Deiser negotiated rights for our former members, which included dovetailed seniority, benefit protections and additional work assignments, ensuring important protections as part of their movement into the Amalgamated Transit Union.

It is good news to see reports of sharp increases in bus ridership across America as soaring gasoline prices force a shift from automobiles to public transportation. The bad news is that transit agencies are saying they cannot dramatically increase bus service anytime soon because of rising fuel costs. The UTU is urging all levels of government to increase spending on public transportation.