Thursday, March 31, 2011

FAA bill under threat of Obama veto

US President Barack Obama would veto sweeping aviation legislation if Republicans in Congress succeed in gutting a rule favorable to airline and rail unions, the White House said.

"The administration is committed to help working Americans exercise their right to organize under a fair and free process," the White House said in a statement on the multi-billion dollar bill that lays out long-term US aviation priorities.

The centerpiece of the legislation would authorize funding of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control operations and modernization of that system. It is under consideration in the US House of Representatives. The chamber is expected to vote this week on an amendment to remove a provision in the bill eliminating an existing rule that makes it easier for unions in the airline and rail industries to organize.

The National Mediation Board (NMB) last year upended long-standing policy that treated non-votes in union organizing elections as 'no' votes. Victory is now awarded to a majority of only those voting. The change aligned representation elections at freight rail companies and airlines -- covered under the same federal labour law -- with balloting guidelines in most other industries.

Unions and airlines have been lobbying hard for their respective positions ahead of the vote in the Republican-led House, which is expected to be very close. Hoping to influence the outcome, Obama's aides said they would recommended a veto if the chamber votes to change the rule. "The fairest and most effective way to determine the outcome of a union representation election is by the majority of votes cast," the White House statement said.

Major US airlines are heavily unionized. But unions have failed in recent months to organize thousands of flight attendants and other workers at mainly non-union Delta Air Lines. New attempts are anticipated. Unions would also like to organize workers at JetBlue Airways. FAA legislation already approved in the Senate did not include the contentious labour provision.

If it passes the House, the outcome would be determined by congressional negotiators from both chambers who would craft a final bill.


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