The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) operating authority expires on Friday and the air travel safety agency may not open again Monday, since Congress has thus far failed to pass a re-authorization and funding bill. The FAA has been reauthorized without much controversy 20 times, but now, House Republicans are insisting on including a provision to weaken collective bargaining rights for airline workers.
Republicans want to overturn a 2010 ruling by the National Mediation Board, the federal agency that mediates labor disputes for airline and railroad workers, which would make union elections more fair and democratic by counting votes of only those voting, instead of all eligible workers. Naturally, Republicans are opposed to any expansion of workers’ rights and are now threatening to shutdown the agency if they don’t get their way, since the Senate has made it clear it will not approve the House version of the re-authorization bill and President Obama has vowed to veto it.
Fortunately, air travel would not be seriously affected in a shutdown, as air traffic controllers are considered “essential” employees and would thus stay on the job. But a shutdown could cause other problems, including furloughing some or all of the 32,000 FAA workers who are not air traffic controllers.
As the deadline approached, House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) added a provision that would eliminate federal subsidies to rural airports — specifically, those in states represented by key Democratic senators. The provision targets airports in the states of Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), the majority leader; Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the committee which has primary jurisdiction over FAA legislation; and Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the committee that has jurisdiction over the aviation tax portions of the bill.
“It’s just a tool to try to motivate some action to get this resolved,” Mica says, adding that the NMB issue is being moved “at the highest leadership levels of the House and Senate and beyond my ability to resolve.”
Still, Mica is wiping his hands clean in the event of a shutdown. “[I]t is not my fault,” he told the Hill. “It will be the responsibility of the other body who does not take this up and pass it. They will be furloughing people and putting people out of jobs.”