Apr. 22--WASHINGTON -- A key lawmaker Wednesday predicted that Congress would soon resolve its differences over aviation legislation, including key safety measures -- but he then insisted that the bill include a union-backed provision -- unrelated to safety -- that could lead senators to block the bill.
At a hearing where the Families of Continental Flight 3407 continued their yearlong quest for the safety provisions, Rep. James L. Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the bill to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration was nearly complete.
"I am confident that within a couple weeks we will have the first FAA reauthorization bill in four years," the Minnesota Democrat said, adding that staff members are working to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
But one huge difference between the bills remains: over a provision in the House bill that would make it easier for FedEx employees to join a union.
Oberstar, a longtime union ally, said after the hearing that the pro-union language "will be in the final bill."
Oberstar's insistence on keeping the provision could spell trouble for the FAA bill. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., last month temporarily blocked the FAA bill over the FedEx provision.
Wednesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.,said:"The Senate did the right thing by excluding a provision to penalize Memphis-based FedEx under federal labor laws. I'll do everything in my power to make sure it stays that way."
That provision, backed by the Teamsters union, would let FedEx drivers organize on the local level under the National Labor Relations Act. It would replace the current requirement that they can organize only nationwide under the Railway Labor Act.
FedEx adamantly opposes the measure, calling it a giveaway to rival UPS.
Members of the families group, formed in response to the February 2009 crash in Clarence Center that claimed 50 lives, said they remained relatively optimistic about the FAA bill. "It would be terrible to allow something like this to derail the bill," said Susan Bourque, whose sister Beverly Eckert, a 9/11 activist, died in the crash.
The FAA bill includes a host of safety measures advocated by the families, including tougher minimum flight time requirements for pilots. The bill also would require the FAA to review its regulations on how much pilots can fly and how much rest they must have.