Lawmakers reach labor deal to clear FAA funding for takeoff

Lawmakers have reached a deal on a long-term funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that is likely to prevent shutdowns of the beleaguered agency for the foreseeable future, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said late Friday afternoon.
 
The FAA's funding, contained in a short-term bill that lawmakers approved last fall, had been scheduled to run out Jan. 31. But Reid said in a statement released by his office that a compromise had been reached Friday on thorny labor provisions that have held up an agreement on a long-term measure for the better part of a year.

“I am pleased that we were able to resolve the major obstacles in a manner that protects American workers and clears the way for a long-term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration," Reid said. "While some issues remain, there is no reason we cannot resolve them in the coming days and avoid any risk of another FAA shutdown."

Reid praised lawmakers for being willing to reach a compromise on controversial labor provisions that had eluded lawmakers as they passed 22 short-term extensions of the last FAA authorization bill, which expired in 2007.
 
“Every issue does not have to be a fight," he said. "This is a good example of the common-sense results that Democrats and Republicans can produce when they work together and put the interests of the American people ahead of scoring political points.”

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A provision undoing changes made to labor election rules for transportation workers by the National Mediation Board (NMB) had held up the compromise. Last year, both the House and Senate passed long-term bills for the FAA; the House approved a four-year, $59 billion bill, while the Senate passed a two-year, $34 billion version.

But the House version reversed the NMB rules that ensured absentee votes were not counted as votes against forming a union.

The Democratically-controlled Senate balked at the provision, calling it anti-democratic, and until Friday, the GOP-led House had refused to drop it, leading to a standoff that lasted for most of 2011.

A Senate Democratic aide said under the compromise reached Friday, the percentage of a company's workforce that would have to be in favor of a vote on unionization would be increased from 35 to 50 percent, and the NMB would have to hold public hearings before making future rule changes in lieu of requiring them to be reviewed by judges.

"This is a compromise that should ensure passage of a long-term funding bill for the FAA," the Senate Democratic source told The Hill.

A spokesman for House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) agreed.

"We can now move ahead on this critical infrastructure measure that will help create jobs, modernize our nation’s air traffic control system, and reduce the size of government,” the Mica spokesman said.

Both the House and Senate aides stressed that there are still issues remaining to be resolved in the long-term FAA bill, but the labor provisions have long been regarded to be the biggest roadblock

The sources said the compromise bill would fund the FAA for four years. 

—This post was updated at 5:45 p.m.

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