US House and Senate leaders over the weekend agreed to extend temporary funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. The agreement funds the FAA through January 31, 2012 and omits language from an earlier version that would have made it more difficult for unions to organize airline workers.
The agreement in the form of a bill was passed by the House on September 13 and now moves to the Senate. If an agreement had not been reached, the FAA, which oversees air safety and airport operations, faced another shut down after September 16.
Last spring, Delta Air Lines, the only US airline that is largely un-unionized, lobbied House Republicans to insert a clause unrelated to FAA’s funding in the agency’s reauthorization bill. The language would have changed the standard for deciding whether a union wins a representation election in the airline industry. The current standard requires unions to win a majority of the votes cast, just like all other elections in the US.
Delta and the Republicans wanted to require unions to win a majority of all affected workers, which would mean that a person who did not vote would be counted as a “No” vote.
Republican insistence on this anti-union language caused the bill to fail, shutting down the FAA for two weeks and resulting in the furlough of 4,000 agency workers and 70,000 airport construction workers. It also cost the government $400 million in revenue from airline tickets.
Lawmakers reached the new reauthorization agreement less than a week before the temporary agreement that re-opened the agency in August was about to expire. Republicans agreed to omit the irrelevant, anti-union language because Republican leaders were skittish about taking the blame for another government shut down controversy and because the Communication Workers of America and other unions mounted an effective campaign to win public support for the passage of a “clean” FAA reauthorization bill that omitted the anti-union language of the earlier proposal.
CWA, whose members include flight attendants who belong to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, launched its campaign for a clean FAA reauthorization bill in August.
The campaign included rallies, picketing, leafletting at airports, an electronic petition drive aimed at Delta, and a series of actions taken against Rep. John Mica, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, who led the effort to include the anti-union language in the bill.
Last August, CWA held a number of demonstrations in Florida aimed at exposing the role that Rep. Mica and Delta Airlines played in shutting down the FAA. At one of the demonstrations, CWA members while they were walking a picket line at one of Rep. Mica’s Florida’s offices, called the representative by phone and delivered the main message of the campaign: “We want a clean FAA reauthorization bill.”
When Rep. Mica flew into to Houston to raise cash from transportation lobbyists, about 50 CWA members picketed the meeting, chanting, “What’s disgusting? Union busting.”
CWA also established a website containing an electronic petition to Delta’s corporate executives denouncing their anti-union activities and initiated a direct mail and robo call campaign aimed at Rep. Mica’s constituents and the constituents of about two dozen other Republicans whose intransigence caused the FAA shut down.
On the Wednesday before the funding extension agreement was announced, the Association of Flight Attendants, the pilots union, the air traffic controllers union, and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) held a media conference at Washington DC’s National Airport.
At the event, AFA President Veda Shook said, “Congress could jeopardize the safety of the U.S. air transportation system and
will risk thousands of airline employees’ jobs by failing to pass a long-term reauthorization bill that focuses on the FAA’s core mission of providing the safest, most efficient aviation system in the world. We cannot allow political brinkmanship to again trump the safety of the flying public or the jobs of hard-working Americans.”
After hearing that an agreement had been reached, Candice Johnson, CWA communications director said, “The clean nature of this extension is a welcome development in that it will prevent another FAA shutdown and will not place people’s lives and jobs beneath John Mica’s and Delta Air Lines’ ideological, union-busting agendas.”
FAA funding reauthorization will come up again in about four and one-half months when this temporary funding extension expires.