After five years and 23 extensions, authorization of Federal Aviation Administration operations could clear Congress as early as this week. A conference committee on Tuesday agreed to a final version of the bill after a compromise on a key labor issue.
The four-year bill allocates $16 billion annually for the FAA. It includes $38.3 billion for operations, $13.4 billion for the Airport Improvement Program, $10.9 billion for facilities and equipment, and $672 million for research and development. The bill also steps up deployment of the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control system and preserves the Essential Air Service program, although it reduces subsidies for airports in rural communities.
The conference committee met because House and Senate leaders agreed two weeks ago to language affecting the National Mediation Board. An NMB ruling last year that FedEx drivers could organize under the Railway Labor Act angered House Republicans. They wrote into their version of the FAA bill a provision that any employee who did not vote in a union election would be counted as a vote against union representation. Senate Democrats stood firm against the provision.
Under the compromise, the anti-union language was replaced with a provision that would allow public hearings before any significant NMB ruling takes effect.
A coalition of union groups denounced the provision, and is lobbying lawmakers for a “clean” FAA bill that contains no changes to the Railway Labor Act.
“An aviation safety and security bill is no place to impose unrelated and controversial labor provisions that will ultimately serve to harm both airline and railroad workers,” the International Association of Machinists said.
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