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Senator will push Biden, Buttigieg for vaccine priority for food haulers

Washington’s Maria Cantwell says ‘critical transportation workers’ need COVID-19 vaccine

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., plans to push President Biden and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to prioritize vaccines for food product haulers.

“I plan on asking President Biden, and hopefully a [DOT] Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg, what they are going to do to help prioritize vaccines to those critical transportation workers who are moving food product,” Cantwell said Wednesday during an executive session meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Currently the committee’s ranking member, Cantwell is expected to be named chairman with Democrats taking control of the Senate.

“We are now seeing international news, national news and local news about the challenges we are facing moving food, and I want to make sure our transportation infrastructure workers are prioritized to get those vaccines and we can continue to move product through the United States.”

Workers in transportation and logistics are currently recommended for vaccination in phase 1c of the vaccine distribution timeline, according to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cantwell did not specify if such priority should be included in the next COVID relief package or provided for through executive order. The last relief package, signed by President Donald Trump in late December, included $10 billion for state transportation departments and local transportation agencies for routine maintenance and operations but nothing specifically for transportation workers.

“Our COVID pandemic continues to impact all sectors of our economy, particularly transportation. I think [committee Chairman Roger Wicker] knows how much our committee played a major role on those transportation COVID dollars, so I would hope that we would have our transportation secretary very soon so we can work on those transportation issues in the next package,” she said.

The executive session was called to vote on Buttigieg’s nomination for DOT secretary, which passed the committee 21-3. The full Senate is expected to soon vote on his nomination.

During his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Buttigieg left open the option of raising the gas tax to pay for infrastructure – a tough sell among Republicans – but then walked back his statements after the hearing, according to reports.

Buttigieg was also asked about the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s recent pilot program proposal to collect data on splitting the 10-hour sleeper berth rest time into 6/4 and 5/5 periods

“I’d want to take a closer look at this and engage with the stakeholders as well to make sure I understand how this pilot program squares the goals of worker and traveler safety with the goal of flexibility,” he said.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.