Bloomberg News

Unions Say Workers’ Rights Curtailed Under FAA Funding Deal

February 03, 2012

(Updates with unions comments starting in fifth paragraph.)

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Transportation unions are seeking to alter labor provisions in a bill that sets U.S. aviation policy because they say a compromise reached by House and Senate negotiators would curtail union rights.

A bipartisan agreement reached Jan. 20 would undermine the authority of the U.S. National Mediation Board, which oversees unions in the rail and aviation industries, Ron Kloos, national vice president and legislative director of the Transportation Communications Union/International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said in an interview.

The labor opposition to a compromise initially designed to satisfy unions’ objections may create a new hurdle to passing a bill authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, which has been operating on short-term funding measures since 2007.

“We see it as an attack on labor law,” Kloos said. His union represents about 50,000 rail and transit workers.

A statement by 18 transportation unions, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, today denounced the board’s provisions.

“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 group said in the statement.

NMB Rule Change

Under a deal brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, lawmakers agreed to drop a House provision that would overturn a 2010 NMB rule that made it easier for workers to unionize. The NMB guidelines said that unions needed to capture more than 50 percent of all votes cast to win representation, compared to previous provisions that required yes votes that accounted for more than half of all employees.

In exchange for agreeing to drop the House measure, Senate Democrats agreed to alter rules for runoff elections, increase the threshold unions need to win the right to an election and require new audits of the NMB.

Several unions, including the Air Line Pilots Association and the Transport Workers Union of America, endorsed the agreement in the hours after it was announced. Most unions representing rail and airline workers are opposed and are going to try to alter the agreement in a conference committee that meets tomorrow to agree on a final FAA bill, Kloos said.

The union which represents flight attendants at AMR Corp.’s American Airlines also wants changes to the NMB compromise, said Julie Frederick, a spokeswoman for the group.

Merger Impact

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 18,000 people, said it’s talking to Reid and Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, Frederick said.

“We have to be vigilant,” she said. “The assault on unions has taken place on every state across the nation.”

One issue that concerns aviation unions is how the compromise might effect airline mergers, Kloos said. Delta Air Lines Inc. is interested in a possible merger with US Airways Group Inc. or American, which filed for bankruptcy protection Nov. 29, people familiar with the matter said last week. They declined to be identified because the discussions are private.

One provision in the compromise would raise to 50 percent from 35 percent the fraction of workers who must show an interest in joining a union before an election is triggered. Some unions are concerned that would make it harder to hold elections after a non-union airline merges with a unionized carrier, Kloos said.

Representatives for Reid and Harkin didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the legislation.

23 Extensions

The dispute over labor provisions for transportation workers contributed to a partial shutdown of the FAA from July 23 to Aug. 5. About 4,000 employees were furloughed during the period and the agency lost at least $468 million because it couldn’t collect airline ticket taxes, according to government and industry data compiled by Bloomberg.

The FAA has operated under 23 separate short-term extensions since 2007. The current extension expires on Feb. 17.

The leaders of the House and Senate committees that oversee FAA legislation have both said they are hopeful they can get a final bill following the compromise on guidelines for the NMB.

“We can get this done,” Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the transportation committee, said in a speech before the House on Jan. 24.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Commerce Committee, said he was confident that the bill would pass. “I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on the few unresolved pieces of the FAA bill,” he said in an e- mail statement today.

Justin Harclerode, a Mica spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment on the impact the union objections could have on the prospects of a bill.

--Editors: Andrea Snyder, Steve Geimann

To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net; William McQuillen in Washington at bmcquillen@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net


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