Several labor issues over the years have frustrated efforts to pass a bill. Most recently, a Republican-drafted bill that cleared the House last spring included a provision that would have overturned a National Mediation Board ruling allowing airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn't vote were treated as "no" votes.
The labor provision, which was opposed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, became the principal issue holding up the bill. A compromise reached two weeks ago by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, allows the mediation board's rules to stand, but it also toughens some lesser requirements that must be met in order to hold a union organizing election.
While the compromise was acceptable to some unions, more than a dozen other unions that represent airline industry workers — including the Teamsters, Communications Workers, Machinists and Flight Attendants — complained the deal was reached without their input and urged its rejection.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he decided to vote against the bill because of the labor provisions even though the measure contains "many good things." He said he was taking a stand against "a few of these powerful companies who don't want their workers to have representation" because someday they "might have to put a few additional dollars in their workers' pockets."
The bill also limits air service subsidies to the approximately 150 communities that already receive subsidized service. And it would trim about a dozen communities from the program after a year if they are within 175 miles of a hub airport and average less than 10 passengers a day, at a savings of about $20 million a year.
House Republicans initially had proposed eliminating the entire $200 million-a-year program except for subsidized service in Alaska and Hawaii. Conservatives had singled out the program as an example of government extravagance.
Last summer, a partisan standoff over a House attempt to cut 13 cities from the program, as well as the labor provision, resulted in two-week, partial shutdown of the FAA. More than 4,000 FAA employees were furloughed, work was halted on more than 100 airport construction projects and the government lost an estimated $350 million in airline ticket taxes.
Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov
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