Unions denounce FAA bill compromise

Monday - 1/30/2012, 7:51pm EST

By SAM HANANEL
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Union leaders on Monday denounced a deal in Congress that would make it harder for them to organize airline and railroad workers, saying it was reached without their input.

The deal, struck 10 days ago by top House Republicans and Senate Democrats, was part of an effort to pass a long-term funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration.

More than a dozen unions — including the Teamsters, Communications Workers, Machinists and Flight Attendants — issued a statement calling on the Senate to reject the compromise.

"Unilaterally changing that law without labor's input and without due deliberation threatens to unravel its carefully balanced goals of labor stability and uninterrupted commerce," said the statement, which was delivered to House and Senate members.

The statement was a rare public rebuke by unions that are typically cozy with Democratic leaders and try to work out differences behind the scenes. It reflects the belief among many union officials that Democrats gave up too much ground to Republicans who want to make it tougher for unions to organize.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declined to comment. Reid previously had called the deal "a good example of the common-sense results that Democrats and Republicans can produce when they work together."

At issue is a 2010 ruling by a tiny government agency — the National Mediation Board — that allowed airline workers to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Previously, workers who didn't vote were treated as "no" votes.

Unions had lobbied hard to have the rule changed, but the GOP-controlled House wanted to completely overturn the ruling in the FAA bill, saying it unfairly reversed 75 years of precedent. Senate Democrats opposed the provision.

The dispute was partly responsible for a standoff last summer that led to a two-week partial shutdown of the FAA and the furlough of nearly 4,000 workers.

Under the compromise, the new voting rule would remain. But the bill would include changes that increase the hurdles for a union to hold an election. Unions would have to collect signatures from 50 percent of workers to indicate their support for an election to be held, raising the previous threshold of 35 percent.

And the bill would allow a run-off election between the top two vote-getters, even if one of those two is the option of "no union."

Despite organized labor's complaint, the deal appears unlikely to change given the strong desire on both sides to get the FAA bill passed. Democrats say the deal saved unions from even more drastic changes demanded by House Republicans.

Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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