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"Bill Would Void Deal With FAA Controllers"



Friday, June 29, 2007

Bill Would Void Deal With FAA Controllers
Legislation Would Allow Union to Negotiate Anew
By Del Quentin Wilber
The Washington (DC) Post


A House panel voted yesterday to roll back a contract imposed by the
government on the nation's air traffic controllers and to send both sides
back to the bargaining table, setting up a potential showdown with the Bush
administration.

The amendment was one of the controversial aspects of a bill needed to fund
the Federal Aviation Administration and its next-generation air traffic
control system. The bill, which easily passed the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee yesterday, also would expand the number of
long-distance flights out of Reagan National Airport.
  
When air traffic controllers could not reach an agreement last year with the
FAA on the terms of their contract, the government imposed one on them that
reduced pay and altered some work rules. Yesterday, pro-labor Democrats
added an amendment to the funding bill that would send the controllers'
union and the FAA back to the bargaining table and then to an outside
arbitrator if they cannot reach an agreement. It also would cause the
controllers' contract to revert to more lucrative terms they enjoyed under
an agreement reached in 1998.

The amendment passed 53 to 16. The White House, however, has threatened a
veto of any legislation that rolls back the controllers' contract.

The House bill introduced yesterday had been held up for at least a week as
top members of the committee pushed the FAA and controllers to negotiate.
Democrats had hoped the sides could reach an agreement to prevent a showdown
with House Republicans and the administration that could stall passage of
what is considered critical legislation to help ease flight delays and boost
air traffic levels in coming years.

Democrats and some Republicans said they supported the amendment because
they did not feel the controllers got a fair shake.

The terms imposed on controllers last year were "grossly unfair and
one-sided," said Rep. Jerry F. Costello (D-Ill.), the chairman of the
aviation subcommittee and sponsor of the amendment. "Our legislation
restores fairness and good faith back into the process."

Republicans countered that sending both sides back to the table and rolling
back the contract to more lucrative terms would send a bad message,
especially to other federal employees who are unhappy with their pay and
benefits.

"This is a showstopper," said Rep. John L. Mica (Fla.), the committee's
ranking Republican. "It's the poison pill that can kill FAA
reauthorization."

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in a statement that department
officials in recent days had offered controllers "a substantial financial
settlement" that would have boosted pay in some cases by more than 15
percent. But the controllers' union rejected the deal, Peters said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association applauded passage of the
amendment in a statement but did not address Peters's comments.

The funding bill also contained language expanding the number of
long-distance departures out of Reagan National Airport by five round trips
a day. Congress long ago limited the number of flights leaving the airport
and traveling farther than 1,250 miles. A bill now moving through the Senate
seeks six daily long-haul round trips.

The panel passed another amendment, 51 to 18, that would make it easier for
truck drivers at FedEx to unionize. Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.),
chairman of the committee, said the legislation was "about fairness" and
leveling the playing field in the shipping business.

Organizing a union at FedEx faces a higher hurdle than at many other
companies because the shipping giant is governed by labor rules that apply
to airlines. United Parcel Service, FedEx's rival, is not considered an
airline and has a large unionized workforce.

Maury Lane, a FedEx spokesman, said the company wished "the committee would
have taken a different vote today and hope the House will remove this
amendment."

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