FAA Funding Bill And The Labor Hurdle

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Long-term funding has finally returned to the FAA after a half-decade hiatus, and the bill will fund system upgrades, initiate a pathway for domestic drone use, and also address a key sticking point -- rules that affect pilot unions. Last summer, Congressional-level disagreements over language that would alter how airline workers could unionize and operate in part led to a temporary shut-down of non-essential operations at the FAA. For some time, it was thought that an agreement on long-term funding for the FAA would bypass labor issues, but the new bill does make changes to current union rules. For its part, ALPA criticized the bill for its inclusion of "provisions unrelated to aviation safety" but said that "the compromise was necessary to set the stage for the passage of this extremely important funding bill." Other unions were not as accepting.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants were among those that opposed the bill. The bill allows a 2010 ruling by the National Mediation Board to stand, allowing airline workers to unionize by gathering a simple majority from those voting. That particular issue had been a sticking point in Congressional negotiations. But the bill now also increases (from 35 percent to 50 percent) the number of worker signatures needed for unions to indicate their support for an election. Run-off elections would also be allowed between the two choices on a ballot that gathered the most votes -- even if one choice represents a person and the other represents the option of no union. These issues were resolved in Congress without seeking input from labor groups. Labor issues aside, the bill directs $11 billion to upgrade from radar to GPS at the nation's 35 busiest airports buy 2015. It also marks 2015 as a deadline for the FAA to create regulations for testing and licensing commercial domestically operated drones.