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FAA, Surface-Transport Bills Near Votes as Lawmakers Compromise

U.S. lawmakers agreed to compromise on a labor provision in legislation to keep the Federal Aviation Administration running.

The deal by House and Senate leaders will allow passage of an FAA bill “very soon,” Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said yesterday. The compromise drops labor requirements that may have made it harder for workers to join a union.

Congress has been forced to pass 22 short-term extensions allowing the FAA to operate since the last long-term legislation expired Sept. 30, 2007. The current extension expires Jan. 31.

“I am pleased that we were able to resolve the major obstacles to an agreement in a manner that protects American workers, and clears the way for a long-term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat, said in an e-mail statement.

A separate funding measure for surface-transportation programs, which have been operating under short-term extensions since 2009, may be considered by the House committee on Feb. 2 and move to the full chamber for consideration later that month, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The dispute over labor provisions for transportation workers contributed to a partial shutdown of the FAA from July 23 to Aug. 5. About 4,000 employees were furloughed during the period and the agency lost at least $468 million because it couldn’t collect airline ticket taxes, according to government and industry data compiled by Bloomberg.

Cooperation, Bipartisanship

House Republicans, in a move objected to by Senate Democrats, included a provision in an FAA bill last year that overturned a 2010 National Mediation Board decision that made it easier for employees to vote to join a union. The compromise drops the Republican measure from the bill, Harclerode said.

In exchange, Democrats agreed to require the mediation board, which regulates labor issues for rail and airline workers, to hold public hearings before adopting new rules, Harclerode said. The compromise also alters some rules for union runoff elections, and requires the Government Accountability Office to review union certification rules under the mediation board and compare them to other labor-regulation agencies.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents over 20,000 FAA controllers and engineers, praised lawmakers for reaching an agreement.

“At a time when cooperation and bipartisanship are considered near-blasphemy in our nation’s capital, the men and women of NATCA are pleased to see lawmakers in Washington reach a long-overdue compromise,” Paul Rinaldi, the union’s president, said in an e-mailed statement.

Rural Airport Subsidies

Other disputes that have held up passage of an FAA bill remain unresolved, Harclerode said.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Commerce Committee, and Representative John Mica, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, have said that remaining issues include government supplements for rural air service, allocation of flights into Reagan Washington National Airport and rules for carrying lithium battery shipments on cargo flights.

The FAA shutdown occurred after Mica included a measure in a temporary FAA bill that would have eliminated subsidies for airline service at 13 rural airports. Rockefeller said it was unfair to include the subsidy cuts in the temporary bill.

Majority Rules

The mediation board wrote regulations in 2010 to let a majority of those voting decide whether to join a union. Previously, a majority of all workers, regardless of how many actually submitted a ballot, had to vote in favor of unionizing.

A U.S. appeals court ruled in December that the change was proper.

Airlines, including Delta Air Lines Inc., and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce trade group, have opposed the change.

Airlines for America, the Washington trade group representing Delta and other carriers, declined to comment on the compromise until it has had a chance to read the legislation, Steve Lott, the group’s spokesman, said.

“Delta has always supported a long-term FAA reauthorization bill,” Gina Laughlin, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based airline, said in an e-mail. “We hope Congress can agree to a final bill in the next few weeks.”

Surface Transportation

U.S. surface transportation programs have operated under periodic extensions of the legislation that was set to expire in 2009, with the current authorization ending on March 31. A Senate version of the measure was approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee in November.

The House committee won a commitment from leaders for the full House to debate the surface-transportation bill in February. Transportation industry officials will be briefed on Jan. 26, the people said.

Both the surface-transportation and FAA bills would need additional funding to prevent cuts in highway, bridge and transit projects, the committees have said.

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