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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. KAPTUR. First, I want to thank Mr. Grimm for offering this bipartisan amendment.

Last year, we saw the same effort to attack project labor agreements in the military construction appropriations bill. This House on a bipartisan basis made the right choice, and we voted to support negotiated contract labor agreements. Why? It's the American way. It's the American way to respect the dignity of the individual. Yes, we respect their lives, their liberty, and indeed their pursuit of happiness. In northern Ohio, we've seen how important project labor agreements are. We use them to save lives as skilled laborers perform extremely dangerous work that I would dare say almost no one in this House is capable of performing.

These agreements are absolutely essential for workplace safety, for ensuring quality construction, and protecting the lives and rights of those men and women who perform extremely difficult, sophisticated, and superhuman work on a regular basis. I'm reminded in Toledo, Ohio, not so long ago we were replacing a major interstate lift bridge--the largest transportation project in Ohio history--over $400 million over several years.

We knew we needed a project labor agreement to complete the job with as few accidents as possible because we were replacing a lift bridge along one of the region's most important interstate highway systems adjoining three States. We insisted, and I worked so hard, to achieve a project labor agreement for the construction of this complex skyway bridge over the Maumee River, the largest river that flows into the Great Lakes. I didn't want it to be like Mackinaw Bridge, with the names listed for posterity of all the dead workers who were responsible for building that bridge, and whose names are left to history.

We hoped and worked so hard to try to limit the danger to the men and women who would build our bridge. We knew we needed a project labor agreement to write the rules of the road for that construction project. People were literally placing their lives at great risk every single day. If you don't believe me, you should have seen those talented individuals lofted at hundreds of feet in the air and then in bitterly freezing weather trying to put the pieces together above the river to construct the giant spires, physically creating the modern architectural wonder of the Glass City Skyway, which was dedicated to all the veterans of our country. But despite all our noble efforts and the safety precautions, our community still lost precious lives in two separate tragedies that were avoidable.

In the middle of February in 2004, one of the cranes collapsed, killing four workers and injuring four others. Why did they collapse? Because the company decided to cut corners and created a contest between which parts of the roadbed would be built faster by separate teams of workers. All the inspectors missed what was happening. Four workers were killed. I went to every single funeral. I never want to have to do that again. I never want to have to try to comfort the families of the tragedy that happened. Three years later, another man died when the platform he was working on collapsed. I know we would have lost more lives, were it not for the project labor agreement, but we shouldn't have even lost those lives. Yet, we would have lost more lives if there had not been a project labor agreement in place.

I don't believe in neutrality. Some of my colleagues have talked about neutrality. No, there should be no neutrality when it comes to workers lives. These workers were helping to build our country's future for the benefit of us all. They deserve a safe work environment. They deserve to have their lives represented in a contract agreement. The value of a completed project is worth more than the concrete, it's worth more than the spires, and it's worth more than the metal. It should be measured in the dignity of life. But workers were crushed to death. Thank God we had an agreement in place. It wasn't neutral. It defended those workers who lived. It defended the workers whose lives were saved because we knew we were a Nation of laws and that their lives were worth everything to us. That's the American way.

When we as a Nation invest in our physical infrastructure, those that are actually building up our country deserve to have their lives protected through contracts. Values derives not just from the cost of the concrete, but the value of their lives. Support project labor agreements, support this amendment.

I ask my colleagues to vote for the Grimm amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.


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