United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: December 17, 2014
Type: Report


The 113th Congress has officially adjourned. The newly elected Republican-dominated 114th Congress will convene in early January 2015. 

The last undecided House race gives Republicans another seat in the House with Martha McSally (R-AZ) defeating incumbent Representative Ron Barber (D-AZ) for the seat formerly held by Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ).   The House will have 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the 114th Congress. 

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) lost her reelection bid in a runoff election held this month.  The Senate make up for the 114th Congress will be 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats (including 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats).    Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will control the senate agenda as the new Senate Majority Leader.   

The make-up of the House and Senate committees and subcommittees will reflect these new majorities.  AFA has a good relationship with Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Homeland Security Committees and we hope to build more relationships with Republican House offices.  

The Senate will be more of a challenge.  It will definitely be an interesting two years. 



Combatting the Norwegian Air International Business Model

Since we first reported, in late 2013, on Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) plan to operate flights from Europe to the United States as an Irish air carrier instead of a Norwegian air carrier, to avoid Norwegian labor and social laws, AFA has been an integral part of a coordinated effort to stop NAI’s flags of convenience plan.   This is a complicated issue because of the different airlines Norwegian Air Shuttle operates (the parent company of NAI) and the multi-faceted campaign we are waging against NAI.  

For the past year, AFA has been working with a coalition of US aviation labor unions, led by ALPA, and several US and European airlines (including United) that are in agreement against Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) scheme and pending application before the US Department of Transportation for a foreign air carrier permit.  NAI’s flag of convenience low-road business model threatens our jobs, collective bargaining rights, safety regulations and the high aviation standards of the United States (US) and the European Union (EU).   It also violates the US-EU Open Skies Agreement.

US House Letter to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx

On November 19,  AFA activists attended the ALPA sponsored #DENYNAI Fly-In to urge members of Congress to sign a bipartisan letter authored by Representatives Chris Collins (R-NY) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) to  US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, urging him to uphold the US-EU Open Skies Agreement and reject NAI’s application   In addition to our lobby visits that day, AFA Government Affairs Committee members contacted all 435 House offices by phone.  As a result of our advocacy, 188 bipartisan members of the US House of Representatives signed the Collins/Sires letter to Secretary Foxx.   If your US Representative signed the letter, please be sure to thank her/him. 

A list of those members of Congress who signed the letter is included with this report. 

Language Included in Year-End Funding Legislation

This month, both the House and the Senate included language in the year-end government funding bill that prohibits funding for new foreign air carrier permit that is not in compliance with the US-EU Open Skies Agreement.  The language, originally sponsored by Representatives Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in June 2014, sends a strong signal to the Administration that NAI’s application is not supported by Congress.   

US and European Commission Meet to Discuss NAI Application

The Department of Transportation released the minutes of their November 25 meeting with the European Commission.   The European Commission requested the meeting to discuss NAI’s pending application.  The minutes of the meeting do not convey anything new nor do they specify if there will be a comment and/or reply period. 

The Bottom Line

The final decision for rejecting or approving NAI’s pending application for a foreign air carrier permit rests with the Administration and the Department of Transportation.  

If NAI succeeds in “labor law shopping” choosing where it does business based on an advantageous legal and regulatory environment, NAI will yield an enormous economic advantage over U.S. airlines, making it more difficult for U.S. airlines and their employees to compete for long haul international passengers’ business.    That is why it I so important the DOT finishes the job to deny NAI’s foreign air carrier permit application.  


The 2015 CROmnibus spending bill (year-end funding bill) which Congress passed and President Obama signed into law, which included the AFA supported foreign air carrier permit language, also included provisions concerning multi-employer pension plans.  We received a number of inquiries about this language. 

The provision would allow pension plan trustees to cut the pension benefits of retirees in financially troubled multi-employer plans to help prevent the collapse of failing plans.   While any cuts to anyone’s pension plan are of concern, the United pension plan that was taken over by the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is a single employer plan and not affected by the newly adopted provision.   

PBGC solvency and protection of United Flight Attendant benefits under the PBGC should remain a priority for the United MEC.  



The final piece of legislation the Senate considered before adjournment was a short term tax bill which restores tax provisions for the 2014 tax year.   The bill includes tax provisions that provide equal treatment of commuting costs and allows mass transit riders to reduce their pre-tax income by $250 rather than $130 for mass-transit commuting costs.   This will be a welcome relief for Flight Attendants who take advantage of this pre-tax benefit. 

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