Transportation Justice is Needed Throughout the Supply Chain
By Lisa Berglund and Emily Erickson
The following piece is part of Progressive City's Planning for Just Transport series. Transport is fundamental to our existence – including access to key sources of livelihood, ranging from work to healthcare to educational institutions to childcare to stores. Yet, the right to accessible, safe and affordable transport – as a public good – is continuously denied on the basis of ability, race, gender, sexuality and class. With this in mind, authors have highlighted initiatives, strategies or actions that aim to secure more just forms of transit.
There has been a concerted effort at many agencies to diversify the workforce of professional transportation planners, however little attention is paid to workers who actually deliver on these plans by building and maintaining transportation infrastructure. Transportation planners have been paying significant attention and proposing policies to increase accessibility and mobility for racialized communities by restructuring fares, increasing access to transit, and making reparations for damages caused by the construction of transportation infrastructure through racialized communities. But missing from this discussion is the role of workers of color throughout the supply chain who build and operate the buses, trains, and infrastructure that our transit systems rely on. In the case of transit operators, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the taken for granted essential services of a largely racialized workforce. These workers have historically faced both exclusion from these workforces on one hand, and exploitative labor practices on the other.
Key links in the transportation supply chain have received little attention in the scholarly and practice oriented discussions on just transportation, from a race or class perspective. Low-road employment practices where cost cutting leads to racial wage gaps and dangerous conditions for workers of color in transit vehicle manufacturing. Next in the supply chain, we should consider organizing efforts of Black and Indigenous workers and their historic struggle to be included in the building trades that construct rail and road networks. Across the U.S. and Canada, workers of color have not gained access to construction trades and high skilled (and therefore higher paying) sectors due to a legacy of exclusion and discrimination in training and hiring. As a final link in the supply chain, transit operators, a group in which workers of color are frequently overrepresented, is also overlooked in discussions about transportation equity. While many of these operators have successfully fought for benefits and protections, they are routinely exposed to occupational hazards, most recently in their roles as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Planners should use their positions of institutional power to support anti-racist labor practices throughout the supply chain by creating inclusive procurement policies, supporting campaigns to improve job quality and normalizing the promotion of anti-racist practices at every link in the chain. While we focus here on transportation planning, labor issues are embedded in the production and maintenance of planning outcomes and are key for planners working towards racial justice in all areas of the profession.
Lisa Berglund is a professor at the School of Planning at Dalhousie University. Her work focuses on social justice and community organization in the context of gentrification and other types of neighborhood change. She has researched the role of community benefits agreements in the US and Canada, exploring how benefits like jobs and housing can be distributed justly in quickly redeveloping areas.
Emily Erickson is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Alabama A&M. Her work focuses on economic justice, immigrant rights, and civic engagement. She has researched how heavy manufacturing is reshaping communities in the American South.