Dec. 6—LOUISVILLE — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's recent trip to Louisville focused on federal efforts to combat supply chain issues.
On Tuesday, Buttigieg visited the UPS Worldport to talk about the supply chains and steps taken to alleviate disruptions, particularly during the busy holiday season.
During his tour of the air facility, he met with UPS CEO Carol Tomé and International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Sean O'Brien.
Buttigieg said the pandemic created some of the most difficult years for transportation in decades, but the industry has "pulled through the worst of it."
"The key to the entire transportation system in the country is the people who get it done," he said. "The workers who fly and drive and sort and fix equipment and literally build our infrastructure so that all Americans can live and study and work and eat.
"And while so many are getting ready for a well-deserved rest, you all are getting ready for your absolute peak season, which we hope will be followed by some well-deserved rest, because we're going to be counting on you more than ever as we undertake the economic growth that this nation has ahead."
Millions of packages go through UPS Worldport on a daily basis. Buttigieg emphasized the vital role of UPS' largest air facility in the U.S. transportation system.
He said when things are going well in terms of transportation and supply chains "most people don't have to think about it."
"You handle these essentials and worry about getting them where they need to go so other people don't have to, so they can concentrate on whatever means most to them — their loved ones, their education, their businesses — all the things they don't have to invest energy in worrying about because you are on top of it," he said.
"Even reindeer have their limits, and I've got to say, it is the workers we met today, the longshoremen I met in Los Angeles, the rail workers I've been with in New Jersey who are actually delivering, so thank you," he said. "
Improvements to ports, roads and railways are essential, Buttigieg said, and described federal investments taking place in Kentucky and Indiana.
He mentioned federal investments in Louisville for the Reimagine 9th Street and Broadway All the Way projects. This year, he also made a trip to Tell City River Port in Indiana, which is receiving a $1.6 million federal grant for improvements.
"One of the things we see is that everything is connected, and that's true whether we're talking about bridges that we're investing in, including some in this region," he said.
The administration is "proud to make those investments in every part of the country," he said.
Buttigieg said he is proud of the "middle class careers" created at UPS and the "work the Biden-Harris administration is doing to help more people enter and stay in that middle class."
He said the administration has helped create more than 735,000 "good American manufacturing jobs" in the past couple of years and noted federal efforts to combat global inflation "with every tool at our disposal."
He highlighted progress that has occurred in relieving supply chain problems and noted "how far we have come" in the past year.
"I want to just be the Ghost of Christmas Past... just to remind us of where we were a year ago," Buttigieg said. "Americans were wondering if we would be able to get the basic goods, not to mention things like Christmas presents when we needed them."
"The pandemic had pushed our global supply chain to the breaking point," he said. "About 100 container ships were bearing down on the ports of L.A. and Long Beach any given day."
Buttigieg said "we as a country stepped up, our administration brought together players from across the supply chains," including companies such as UPS.
"And together, we found ways to address many of the biggest disruptions," he said. "People got almost 99% of their packages on time or with minimal delays from major shippers. You all worked your magic and Christmas came right on time."
Ports in the United States "moved a record number of goods last year, and retail sales hit an all-time record high," he said.
"Now fast forward to today, a year later," he said. "Right now, at worst the amount of ships waiting in anchor at the ports of Long Beach is in the single digits, and we're often seeing that backlog completely gone. At the same time, we saw record sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday."
Buttigieg said shipping costs are a major part of fighting inflation, but he is seeing improvement.
"Some of the Pacific Ocean shipping rates are down 80%, which ought to help lower prices that Americans are seeing in the store in the moment we're fighting inflation with everything that we've got and helping people get what they need without delays," he said.
He noted the recent action by Congress to avoid a national rail strike, saying it "would have put almost a million people out of work right away, increased prices for gas and food and endangered the safety of tap water in towns across the country."
"We're glad that freight rail workers are going to see a long, overdue and well-deserved 20% pay increase, that the two-man crew will be protected, that health care and other benefits will be improved," he said.
He is glad to see a "long, overdue and well-deserved" pay increase for rail workers and improvements to health care and other benefits, but Buttigieg said there is more work to be done.
"Now that we have avoided a national catastrophe for our economy, we will continue to push for paid leave for all [rail] workers because it is the right thing to do," he said.
In addition to addressing immediate supply chain needs, it is important to "make sure our supply chains are more resilient with costs coming down for families."
Buttigieg cited the Biden administration's work to improve career opportunities.
"We're building new truck parking so drivers can get safe rest," he said. "We've launched the Women in Trucking Advisory Board, because we can't leave half of America's talent on the table and miss out on a generation of great drivers because women aren't supported in their career."
"We're investing to help my fellow veterans get opportunities to enter the transportation workforce debt-free, and we're helping states cut out the red tape and increase their capacity to issue commercial drivers licenses so we have enough drivers to handle the strong and growing economy."