Lawmakers close in on FAA funding deal amid pushback from unions

Lawmakers in the House and Senate came close to finalizing an agreement Tuesday to provide long-term funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as unions voiced opposition to a labor deal that paved the way to the compromise. 

A conference committee of lawmakers from the House and Senate spent most of a meeting late Tuesday afternoon praising each other for their hard work
in reaching the deal, which makes changes to union election rules for
workers covered by the Railway Labor Act. 

{mosads}”All of us at this table made compromises,” Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said
at the start of Tuesday’s hearing. “We all
sacrificed some strongly held policy positions on labors issues. The
decisions our respective leaders made were not easy.”

But a week after lawmakers first began touting an agreement on labor provisions in the FAA bill that held up negotiations for the better part of a year, 19 unions called for the Senate to squash the deal.

“An aviation safety and security bill is no place to impose unrelated and controversial labor provisions that will ultimately serve to harm both airline and railroad workers,” the union’s letter said.

{mosads}”The proposed Railway Labor Act changes would drastically rewrite a
statute that was crafted by labor-management cooperation and has not
been changed for over 75 years without the agreement of both employer
and employee representative,” the letter from the unions continued. “Airline and rail
workers would suffer significant losses as contracts are jettisoned,
collective bargaining rights are cut and legal hurdles will be placed in
the way of gaining a voice at work.”

The letter was signed by the United Auto Workers union;
Communications Workers of America; Association of Flight Attendants-CWA;
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; American Federation of
Government Employees; International Association of Machinists; National
Education Association; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and
Trainmen-IBT; Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees-IBT;
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Service Employees Local 32BJ-National
Conference of Fireman and Oilers; Sheet Metal Workers; United
Steelworkers; Teamsters; American Train Dispatchers Association;
Transportation Communications Union-IAM; Amalgamated Transit Union;
United Transportation Union; and UniteHere.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) also touted the agreement on the FAA bill, which has been rare in the sharply divided 112th Congress.

“This bipartisan, bicameral agreement ensures long-term aviation safety and infrastructure funding for the next four years,” Mica said in a statement after the meeting. “I commend my colleagues in the House and Senate for working across party lines to come together on this long overdue measure to make needed reforms at FAA, fund programs for constructing major airport infrastructure improvements, and help create jobs for Americans.”

Mica added that the deal on the FAA bill was long overdue.

“After a five-year delay and 23 temporary extensions, this measure is key to advancing the nearly eight percent of our nation’s economy impacted by the aviation industry,” he said.

The unions that signed the letter to lawmakers, though, said the bill deprived workers.

“A rewrite of long standing labor law deserves proper and due consideration through the normal deliberative process,” the labor groups said in their letter. “Acting otherwise directly conflicts with the non-partisan recommendations of the 1994 Report of the Dunlop Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations.

“This is particularly true of this law which was uniquely created through labor and management negotiations,” the letter continued. “Unilaterally changing that law without labor’s input and without due deliberation threatens to unravel its carefully balanced goals of labor stability and uninterrupted commerce.”

Under the compromise lawmakers endorsed Tuesday despite the union opposition, 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 National Mediation Board would have to hold public hearings before making future rule changes in lieu of requiring them to be reviewed by judges.

The unions said the deal was “rewarding the House Republican Leadership’s desire to rewrite decades of long standing labor law in a flash by inserting an unrelated and controversial labor provision in a much needed aviation safety and security bill.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle offered a starkly different assessment during Tuesday’s conference committee hearing, however.

“It’s been too long, but we are finally completing the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization,” Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said. “Transportation is the lifeblood of our economy, both in my home state of Montana and all across the country.”

“This legislation will, at long last, provide stable funding and policy direction for the FAA’s safety programs, airport development grants, and operations for fiscal years 2012 through 2015,” House Aviation subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI) added in a statement after meeting. 

If a majority of the 26-member conference committee approves of the compromise version of the bill, the measure will have to be approved by the full House and Senate before Feb. 17, when a short-term extension of the FAA’s current funding expires.

The multi-year FAA bill that is at the root of the compromise would provide nearly $16 billion per year to the beleaguered agency, which has had 23 temporary funding extensions since its last appropriations measure was expired in 2007.

Tags Jay Rockefeller Max Baucus Tom Petri

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