United MEC Government Affairs Committee Report

Date: February 28, 2009
Type: Report

The next two years promise to be a pivotal time for Flight Attendants and organized labor.  With a President and majorities in both chambers of Congress who are supportive of many of labor’s top priorities, legislative issues important to Flight Attendants and all working families have a good chance of being enacted.  The year has already gotten off to a remarkable start for AFA.  But our recent victories are not just the result of a Flight Attendant friendly Congress and Administration.   They are the result of our collective work and grassroots advocacy and illustrate what we can accomplish working together.

In the next few weeks our focus will remain on our continued support for the representational election facing our sisters and brothers at the new Delta and our own upcoming negotiations, National Mediation Board appointees who will protect our collective bargaining rights, passage of the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act once it has been introduced in the Senate, and introduction and support for Flight Attendant provisions in the Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) Reauthorization bill.

We will also be working to ensure cabotage and foreign ownership laws are not gutted, pursuing legislation to limit carry-on baggage, enacting the Employee Free Choice Act, as well as bankruptcy reform and health care reform.   There is no question about how active the Government Affairs Committee will be as we work to ensure that our issues receive the attention they deserve, as Congress moves to get America back on the right track.       

AFA Legislative Agenda

Family and Medical Leave Act Technical Correction

On Monday, February 9, 2009, Representatives Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Thad McCotter (R-MI) introduced our legislation to clarify the intent of the original Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) to ensure that Flight Attendants and pilots are treated fairly and have equal access to this federal benefit.  The Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act, H.R. 912, was introduced with 53 cosponsors and was considered by a unanimous voice vote, under a House legislative procedure known as suspension of the rules.

Suspension of the Rules:  This is a House procedure to expedite consideration of legislation, usually of a non-controversial nature.  Under suspension of the rules, floor debate is limited to 40 minutes, floor amendments are prohibited, and two-thirds vote is required for final passage

The legislation was identical to the original bill which passed in the 110th Congress by an overwhelming majority, 409-2. 

In the Senate, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has agreed to be the lead sponsor of this legislation since our original Senate sponsor, former Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has been confirmed as the new Secretary of State for the Obama Administration.  Senator Murray is working on seeing if Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will join her in introducing the bill.  

Now that the House has moved so quickly to approve this legislation, our focus and efforts will turn, once again, to the Senate. We are hopeful that the same effort of bipartisanship displayed in the House will also be present in the Senate.  The Senate bill had 37 cosponsors, including 9 Republicans but the measure stalled due to partisan politics.  While the climate in Washington is more worker friendly, we can take nothing for granted.  We will be developing an aggressive campaign to move the Senate legislation forward and I look forward to everyone’s support. 

FAA Reauthorization

Every several years, Congress is supposed to re-evaluate the priorities of the Federal Aviation Administration and assign funding for its programs through a “reauthorization” bill.  The last FAA Reauthorization bill expired in 2007 and the last Congress failed to complete their work on this legislation.

The FAA Reauthorization bill is extremely important to us as it presents an opportunity for AFA to address a number of our priority issues.  AFA International President Pat Friend will be outlining these priorities in testimony to the House Aviation Subcommittee on February 11, 2009.

Representatives James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Jerry Costello (D-IL) Chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee introduced the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2009, HR 915, which is nearly identical to the legislation introduced in the 110th Congress.  The bill included the same Flight Attendant issues outlined in the previous bill with some minor changes where needed.

The Senate is moving much slower.  We believe that they will not get around to introducing this bill until some time in March or April.  The House and Senate FAA Reauthorizations bills will go through the same process all bills go through once they are introduced in Congress including debate and vote in committee; debate and vote on the House/Senate floor; referral to Conference Committee; another floor vote and then sent to the President.   There will be a number of occasions during this legislative process where we will be called upon to assist the AFA Government Affairs Department.

Cabotage and Foreign Ownership

Longstanding U.S. aviation law reserves U.S. domestic point-to-point service or “cabotage” to airlines owned and controlled by a U.S. citizen.  U.S. law and regulation also limits voting stock ownership by a foreign entity in a U.S. airline to 25 percent and caps foreign equity to 49 percent.  These requirements are combined and are designed to protect the U.S. airline industry from unfair competition and for national economic and security reasons.

In 2005, the Bush Administration’s Department of Transportation proposed a relaxation of the rules governing control of U.S. airlines. The proposed change would have allowed foreign investors to gain control over economic decisions such as route structures, hiring practices and aircraft purchases.   This proposal was completely contradictory to U.S. aviation law that had been in place for years and was inconsistent with the will of Congress.  To prevent the Bush Administration from implementing the change without Congressional approval, an amendment was offered to the Transportation Appropriations bill to block its the implementation.

We will be monitoring for any proposed changes to both cabotage and foreign ownership rules.

Employee Free Choice Act 

The legislation would require employers to recognize unions when a majority of workers sign cards in favor of unionizing, a process known as card check.  Current labor law allows employers to demand elections when they receive the cards, beginning a six to eight week campaign where the employer can hold mandatory meetings to attack unions, fire lead organizers or change their schedules so they no longer have access to workers.  Until 1974, card check was the most common way to organize a union.

The Chamber of Commerce is spearheading a multi-million dollar campaign with radio, print and television ads saying  “workers will lose their democratic right to vote” .   These 15 second  “secret ballot”  sound bites do not reflect the truth of union elections but they pose a formidable public relations challenge.   The legislation allows an election if 30 percent of workers want one.  The real truth is that workers lose their right to a fair election process now because the rules are tilted in favor of the employer.

Preventing the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is a top priority of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber and their business allies believe that “an emboldened labor movement is pushing an aggressive activist agenda that would stifle the U.S. economy.”

By enabling workers to form and join Unions without the threat of employer intimidation and bargain for better wages, retirement security and health care benefits, the Employee Free Choice actually lifts the U.S. economy.   Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is a top priority for the Communications Workers of America (CWA)  as well as the AFL-CIO.  Other AFL-CIO priorities for the 111th Congress include:

  • Implementing a meaningful economic recovery package that rebuilds our economy and creates millions of new jobs, including “green jobs”, and,
  • Providing affordable and quality health care for all.

Department of Labor Decision on Flight Attendant Job Classification

The Department of Labor has finally responded to AFA’s formal comments and has acknowledged the critical work that Flight Attendants do.  Through AFA’s lobbying efforts, Flight Attendants will now be classified as essential transportation workers.  This is a landmark victory for us and AFA was the only Flight Attendant Union who worked on ensuring this change. 

Prior to this classification the Flight Attendant profession was listed under the category of Personal Care and Services, along with such professionals as animal trainers, hairdressers and fitness trainers.   AFA has long disagreed with this classification and worked determinedly to ensure that Flight Attendants were recognized as the safety professionals we are. 

Obama Administration Appointments

National Mediation Board

Included in the many appointments to be made by the Obama Administration are members of the National Mediation Board (NMB), the independent federal agency that overseas labor-management relations in the airline and railroad industries. During the past eight years the National Mediation Board has increasingly tilted in favor of management and of making organizing efforts and representation elections more difficult.  The current three member NMB is made up of one Democrat and two Republican appointees.  Current Republican member, Ms Read Van De Water, a former lobbyist for Northwest Airlines, is a Presidential holdover and can be replaced immediately.

We are making progress in our efforts to get the Obama Administration to nominate a new member of the NMB.  AFA Hero Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) wrote a letter to President Obama urging the Administration to act quickly in appointing a replacement to the National Mediation Board.  Representative Roybal-Allard then circulated a “Dear Colleague” urging members of Congress to sign on to the letter.  Northwest and Delta Flight Attendants were on the Hill for two weeks urging members of Congress to sign-on to the letter.  Our Government Affairs Committee assisted this effort by contacting House offices via telephone and e-mail.

As the Obama Administration continues to move forward to fill vacancies throughout the federal government, AFA will continue to urge the White House to act quickly to appoint a fair-minded replacement to the National Mediation Board.  With approximately 4000 appointments to be made by this new administration, we must make sure that this appointment gets quick and immediate attention; otherwise it could be months before the person is chosen.

AFA supports the nomination of Linda Puchala to replace Read Van de Water.  Linda is a former Republic Flight Attendant and was AFA President in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s (some of you may remember her.)  She has served as senior mediator on the National Mediation Board for a number of years and has gained the respect of many.  However, there are other labor backed candidates that we support and which would be acceptable.  The important issue is that someone is nominated quickly.

Secretary of the Department of Transportation

Former Representative Ray LaHood (R-IL) won Senate confirmation as President Obama’s Transportation Secretary.  While in Congress, Rep. LaHood served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and then the House Appropriations Committee.  Rep. La Hood did not support all of our issues but he did support our position on foreign ownership and supported our fight to maintain our pensions. 

Secretary of Labor

President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA) is a strong champion of working families.  Her strong leadership on labor issues in California’s state legislature and her excellent record on behalf of working families while she served in Congress will restore the Department of Labor as an advocate for working Americans.

Because Hilda Solis is a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, business interests and Senate Republicans have been lining up against her nomination.  As this report is being written the Senate is expected to be voting on her nomination. 

AFA also supports the nomination of Denny Dillard to head the Transportation Security Administration.

United Airlines Spends $450,000 Lobbying in Last Quarter of 2008

With astronomical amounts of money the airline industry spent lobbying in the fourth quarter, it is essential that we build our FlightPAC.  With a labor friendly Administration and a greatly expanded Democratic majority, anti-worker coalitions have already begun ramping up their political contributions to help defeat our friends in Congress in the 2010 elections.  It is important that we build our political visibility and continue to educate our Members on the importance of Flight Attendant contributions to FlightPAC. 

AFA Political Endorsements

When a new Administration takes office it often creates a number of Congressional vacancies when the President chooses members of Congress to fill cabinet or federal agency positions.  Therefore, even in non-election years, it is important for Local Councils to check with the AFA Government Affairs Department or me before agreeing to support an AFL-CIO or CWA endorsed candidate.

Although in our merger with CWA, FlightPAC merged with CWA COPE because of federal regulations, AFA still has control over the money brought into FlightPAC from AFA Members.  AFA often will endorse a Republican member of Congress who has a strong record of support for our issues, over a Democratic candidate CWA may be endorsing.

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