After weeks of negotiation on a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), lawmakers Wednesday decided not to include controversial language on union contract disputes in the base bill.
Instead, supporters will offer those provisions as an amendment Thursday during a markup of the draft FAA legislation by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Unions have been pushing to change a 1996 law that governs the way the FAA negotiates with its unions. The law (PL 104-264) allows the agency to reimpose its last contract offer when talks have reached an impasse and Congress does not intervene. Pro-labor Democrats and some Republicans have supported requiring the contracts to go to binding arbitration, which the Bush administration dislikes.
Lawmakers, the FAA, the White House and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) have met numerous times over the past few weeks trying to resolve the dispute, to no avail.
Leaving out the contract dispute language will allow the measure to be introduced as a bipartisan bill -- John L. Mica of Florida, the committee's ranking Republican, said he would not cosponsor the measure if it had such provisions. He also said he will remove his support if the language is added during the markup.
"We're under the gun but we've moved it forward, we've done everything we can to try to get a resolution on the labor dispute," Mica said. "But it continues to dominate the bill, unfortunately."
Air traffic controller unions were forced to accept their old contract with the FAA last year after the two sides could not reach a deal. NATCA has been pushing not only to require stalled disputes to be sent to binding arbitration, but also to make any changes retroactive, effectively reopening the contract the FAA imposed last summer.
Mica also said another issue important to unions will be offered Thursday as an amendment -- language that would place FedEx Corp. under the same collective bargaining statute that applies to United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) and other competitors.
Language in the 1996 law placed all of FedEx's operations under the auspices of the 1926 Railway Labor Act instead of the National Labor Relations Act, which typically governs trucking companies and allows local units to unionize. By contrast, the Railway Labor Act allows unionization only on a national scale -- a far more difficult task.
The draft House measure is not expected to propose a new user fee to fund the transition to a satellite-based air traffic control system. The Senate's FAA measure (S 1300) contains a $25-per-flight surcharge.
Mica said the draft will not contain "passengers bill of rights" language pushed by a large grass-roots group of travelers angered by delays that stranded passengers on grounded planes in recent months.
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