Three-Step Process Envisioned
FAA spokesman Greg Martin called the union-inspired legislation another delaying tactic in a set of negotiations that, after six months with little movement, has already gone on too long. "Ironically, this [proposed] legislation contains a mediation clause and we've already called for mediation twice. At any time, without the legislation, NATCA can take us up on mediation so we can get moving closer on key issues," Martin told AVweb. "Clearly, NATCA's determination to push this legislation can be seen as delaying in the context of the evergreen clause." What Martin isn't saying is that, for now, the FAA may have been out-politicked. Although it has the legal authority to declare an impasse at any time, it would be political dynamite if the agency did so while legislation concerning the impasse authority is before Congress. In the meantime the existing contract (which the FAA says is far too rich) prevails so some may believe the union holds an interest in stretching negotiations as long as possible. If the new legislation passes, the FAA and its unions would go through a three-step process to settle impasses. The first step would be mediation, which the FAA has requested, but which NATCA has dismissed as a "first step" toward declaring an impasse. If mediation fails, then the dispute would go to Congress, which would again have 60 days to rule. The key part of the proposed legislation is what happens if Congress fails to act. Currently, the FAA's last offer stands. Under the proposed legislation, Congress's failure to deal with the dispute would automatically trigger binding arbitration. Although the bill has a very long way to go before it can become law, PASS's Brantley said the fact that it's on the table at all should get the FAA's attention. "The fact that both the House and Senate have introduced this legislation should send a very strong message to the FAA that the current process is unreasonable," he said.