Boehner claims victory in FAA bill labor fight

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is claiming victory in a fight union rules that had tied up a multiyear funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The House and Senate have approved legislation that provides nearly $16 billion per year to the FAA through fiscal year 2015. President Obama is expected to sign the bill, which is the first long-term funding measure approved for the agency since 2007.

The debate over FAA funding dragged on for months as lawmakers squabbled over union-election rules set by the National Mediation Board (NMB) for workers covered under the Railway Labor Act. 

Boehner’s office said the compromise that ended the standoff is a victory for union reformers. 

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“Ready for President Obama’s signature, after passage in both the House and Senate, is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization conference report that includes long-overdue reforms to the National Mediation Board (NMB) aimed at helping the economy and removing barriers to job creation,” the Speaker’s office said in an e-mail.

“House Republicans achieved reforms that reinstitute the majority-of-eligible threshold at an earlier stage in the process, eliminate a union tactic to force run-off elections, and implement new levels of transparency and oversight at the NMB where previously there was none.”

Under the compromise, 50 percent of a company’s workforce would need to support unionization for a vote to take place, up from the current level of 35 percent. That overrides an NMB decision from 2010 that would have stopped counting non-votes in union elections as “no” votes. 

In the hours before the final Senate vote to approve the deal, several unions came out against it, calling it “anti-worker.” 

“The proposed FAA bill creates new roadblocks for employees seeking union representation, would take away secret ballot rights, increases the threshold needed to call for a union election, makes collective bargaining more difficult, and limits the safeguards provided by the National Mediation Board,” the parent group of the union for flight attendants, the Communication Workers of America, said in an e-mail to supporters. 

In the end, supporters of the FAA decided it was more important to end the streak of short-term extensions of the agency’s funding rather than stop the changes to the labor laws for transportation workers. 

“Congress should not be amending the Railway Labor Act in this bill [but] I believe it is necessary to move forward and enact a multiyear reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration,” Rep. Jerry Costello (Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation subcommittee on Aviation, said after the House voted to approve the measure Friday. 

Aviation industry groups agreed with Costello that ending the string of short-term FAA funding extensions that had stretched from 2007 was the priority.

“After 23 short-term extensions, the funding and policy direction provided by this legislation will finally allow the FAA to act decisively to move the United States toward a state-of-the-art air transportation system and position us to meet the challenge of competing with European and Asian countries that are already modernizing their systems,” Air Line Pilots Association President Lee Moak said this week in a statement

“In addition, enhancing this nation’s already high standards of aviation safety and building efficiency will help ensure that millions of airline industry employees around the globe can count on good jobs, now and in the future,” Moak continued. 

Despite his support of the compromise that led to the FAA bill’s final approval, Costello said after the House’s vote to approve the measure: “I want to be clear — if the Railway Labor Act change proves to have a negative effect on the right to organize, we must revisit the issue.”

— This story was updated at 4:15 p.m.

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