Despite Obama veto threat, House passes FAA bill with union rules intact

The Republican-led House on Friday passed a $59 billion funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration with a labor provision that has drawn a veto threat from President Obama. 

The House defeated an amendment to remove the controversial provision affecting union elections in a 206-220 vote. The overall measure was approved 223-196.

The fight over the rules for union elections overwhelmed debate on the underlying bill, which would fund the FAA for the next four years after 17 short-term extensions.

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At issue are rules adopted last year by the National Mediation Board that make it easier for workers to unionize.

Under the NMB’s rules, only votes in favor of or against forming a union count in an election — previously, employees who did not vote in a union election were counted as votes against forming a union. That created a much bigger hurdle for a union to organize.

The House language in the FAA bill would undo those rules.

The White House on Wednesday warned that Obama would veto the FAA bill if it included the union provision. It is unclear whether the House bill could move through the Senate with that language, given Democratic control of the upper chamber.

“I’m not going to say 'make my day,' ” House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said of the veto threat during Friday’s debate.

Democrats repeatedly called the provision “a poison pill” that would ground the FAA bill once it left the House. 

“A provision to overturn that rule simply has no business being in this legislation,” said Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  

“It has nothing to do with safety, it has nothing to do with improving our air transportation system, and it has nothing to do with making air service more efficient," Rahall said. “It is part of an assault that we've seen far too often this year on collective bargaining.”

Democrats echoed pre-vote complaints from unions that changing the NMB rules would be undemocratic. 

“If we use that [standard] … for Speaker Boehner, he would have lost that election by 330,00 votes,” Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said. 

They also complained about cuts to overall FAA appropriation; the bill approved by the House would return the agency to 2008 spending levels.

“Congress can not roll back FAA funding to 2008 without harming safety,” Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) said Thursday.

Mica countered that appropriating $59 billion to the FAA over the next four years was a big deal. 

“This is $59 billion over four years,” he said. “This isn’t small potatoes.”

Mica also chastised Democrats for not passing a long-term FAA bill when they were in the House majority, from 2007 until this year. 

“They had 4 years. We've had less than 4 months,” he said. 

The contentious union amendment not only raises the possibility of an Obama veto, it also adds another complication to forthcoming conference negotiations over the FAA bill with the Senate. Not only does the bill passed by the Senate in February not address the NMB rules, it only funds the FAA for the next two years. The Senate measure would appropriate $34.5 billion to the FAA.  

Obama signed a short-term bill Thursday that funds the FAA at current levels through May 31.

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