In a victory for transportation labor unions, a House panel last week adopted language in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that would jump-start labor talks with air traffic controllers.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee adopted, 53-16, an amendment by Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry F. Costello, D-Ill., that would establish a binding arbitration process for contract disputes.
Under the amendment, parties in a stalled labor dispute would have to go back to the bargaining table for 45 days while the old contract remained in effect. That would effectively re-open a contract the FAA imposed on its unionized controllers last summer.
The underlying bill (HR 2881), approved by voice vote with broad bipartisan support, would authorize about $66 billion for the FAA for fiscal 2008 through 2011.
Committee Republicans, including ranking member John L. Mica of Florida, fought Costello's amendment, which the Bush administration also opposes. "This is the showstopper," Mica said, describing the proposal as a poison pill that would kill the bill.
Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters issued a statement that said Bush would veto "any reauthorization proposal that includes language to alter the existing controller contract or reopen contract negotiations."
Unions have been pushing to change a 1996 law (PL 104-264) that allows the FAA to impose its last contract offer if negotiations reach an impasse and Congress does not intervene. Air traffic controllers were forced to accept the FAA's final offer last year after the two sides couldn't reach a deal.
The underlying bill would authorize $15.8 billion for the Airport Improvement Program, almost $13 billion for the FAA's facilities and equipment account and $37.2 billion for FAA operations.
The bill will go next to the Ways and Means Committee, which will consider proposals to raise general aviation jet fuel taxes by 8.9 cents, to 30.7 cents per gallon, and aviation gasoline taxes by 4.8 cents, to 24.1 cents a gallon.
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