Rep. Richardson Visits NATCA EWP
Tuesday, May 03, 2011

On March 24, Congresswoman Laura Richardson from California’s 37th District in Long Beach honored a long-standing invitation by NATCA EWP President Sam Samad. Mr. Samad introduced Building Services Manager Rick Cambra, who welcomed Rep. Richardson on behalf of the Regional Management Team and Regional Administrator Bill Withycombe.  

Samad introduced Richardson by speaking of her background – particularly the fact that she is one of the few national leaders who have been in the public service at all three levels of government: Local, State and Federal. She began her career on the Long Beach City Council, proceeded to the California State Legislature, and ultimately, to the U.S. Congress. In all of positions, Richardson has been on committees involved with transportation issues. 

She is currently on the House Committee on Transportation, as well as serving on its Aviation subcommittee.  She is also on the Committee on Homeland Security, and its subcommittee on Cyber Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies. Richardson is only the 26th African-American female, and the 239th female, to serve in the U.S. Congress.  

For almost two hours, Richardson visited and shared lunch and conversation with NATCA and its guests in the Engineers' Western Pacific Regional Office. She spoke of the great personal gratitude she feels towards the labor movement, noting that her mother’s union membership was a significant factor in her personal success. Her white mother and her African-American father divorced when she was only two, during the height of the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960’s. She stated that, had her mother not been a member of a strong union group that provided guaranteed benefits to members “regardless of what their kids looked like,” she and her sister would never have had the healthy and positive childhood they did.

The congresswoman feels she has been “standing on the shoulders” of the union movement. While discussing the economy, she reminded others they must support the people “who make the economy move.” In fact, holding true to these beliefs, she herself is a current member of the Machinists’ union, having joined in affiliation as a member of the Long Beach City Council.  She mentioned that although she is not sure there has ever been a machinist in the Congress before; she is the only one there now.

Rep. Richardson’s visit coincided with the onslaught of this year’s tower incidents. She spoke of the need for a full and honest investigation of the incident. She stated air safety is of personal interest to her as she flies at least twice a week, and is concerned about the staffing issues regarding tower personnel, including appropriate career experience. In addition, she said that NATCA’s outstanding overall record of safety should not be forgotten. She also supports the Passenger Facility Charge to increase available funds for tower improvements.

A key phase that Richardson used throughout her speech was “getting it right.” She repeatedly said that the “worse thing a legislator can do” is be uninformed of issues impacted by their decision making. Ms. Richardson praised Samad for his diligence and responsiveness to her inquiries, and encouraged all members present to contact her office if they see instances where her influence might be able to help in one transportation matter or another. She requested input from NATCA members that would help her to ask the right questions --to “get people on the record, and to put the right things on the record.”

Richardson had high praise for DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, with whom she has a very good relationship. She said that those in the FAA are lucky to be working under Transportation Secretary LaHood. She continued on to state that even when he was a legislator from the other side of the aisle, Mr. LaHood was recognized as one of the “go to” folks who can work between two opposing sides. In this respect in particular, she said Mr. LaHood “definitely gets it right.”

In the question and answer session following her town hall remarks, she expressed concern about the attacks on the collective bargaining rights of government employees. In response to a request concerning a specific funding need, Richardson shared that, while there can be no "earmarks’ per se," and there will not be another stimulus bill, funding will be available on the administrative side. She encouraged attendees to contact her for a letter of support if they saw a need within the department. In response to a question concerning shortened timeframes that have been caused by funding delays, the representative informed that, if she is given specifics, it is possible to arrange reasonable extensions of individual project funding timeframes.

Richardson took a pointed question concerning the increase in current wartime expenditures overseas. She responded that, while she supports our troops and has visited both Afghanistan and Iraq, she feels the money spent on overseas wars would be better spent here. She mentioned that in the aftermath of the Japan quake and tsunami it became better known that none of the hospitals in the LA area have been retrofitted to withstand a 9.0 earthquake. "We are not preparing our children properly who want to do math," she stated. “We need to fund programs that will help our kids become engineers.”

Richardson said that the National Surface Transportation Commission has projected yearly requirements for 255 billion to support the transportation infrastructure, while only about 180 billion can be allocated. This will probably lead to more private/public partnerships, such as toll roads. She noted that President Obama wants to promote efficient high speed rail transportation as an enduring legacy of his administration. She said that the way individuals are charged for road use will probably be adjusted in the future to reflect “miles traveled” (people who travel more miles will be charged more for registration).    

Following her talk and the Q&A session, Richardson wrapped up the visit with lunch and informal conversation with the BUEs. She took a brief tour of the recently-revamped Operations Center in the Regional Office, and visited the Office’s Control Tower simulator (above) that is used for training. Richardson promised to come back, and invited individuals to visit her in Washington.

"Representative Richardson provides NATCA with key support on the Transportation Committee, and it is our great fortune to have her live and work in Southern California, so close at hand to the area’s LAX, John Wayne and Long Beach Airports," shares Samad.