United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: April 30, 2009
Type: Report


As part of our ongoing efforts to keep our Congressional representatives informed about our contract negotiations, Members of the United Master Executive Council (MEC) and Local Government Affairs Committees met with Congressional offices on March 11 and 12th to discuss our Contract negotiations and the negotiations process under the Railway Labor Act.  Our visits gave us the opportunity to talk about the challenges we have faced since United’s bankruptcy and to explain how we felt our negotiations efforts would compliment Congressional efforts to restore the middle class and rebuild our economy. In addition, we were able to discuss the importance of a fair-minded National Mediation Board and thank offices that had signed on for their recent support for our technical correction to the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

We met with both Republican and Democratic offices from our Local Council geographic locations, offices where we know we have large Flight Attendant populations, newly elected members of Congress and members of the House Transportation and Education and Labor Committees.  Our Senate visits were limited as the Northwest and Delta Flight Attendants were visiting Senate offices while we were on the Hill.  Each office received a packet of information (materials included with this report) which included a letter from MEC President Greg Davidowitch, a detailed primer on the National Mediation Board and the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and a chart of the negotiations procedures under the RLA.    

Amazingly, we were able to meet with 95 Congressional offices and left information at an additional 56 offices on Capitol Hill. Additional Congressional offices received our information via e-mail to the appropriate staff person and the rest were mailed the information via the US Postal Service. So all 535 Congressional offices received (or will soon receive) the information.   Our visits were extremely well received by the staff we met with and we were told repeatedly how much the offices appreciated the information we were providing. 

Congress may play a role at different stages of our negotiations and we want to be sure that our Congressional representatives hear from us throughout the process. During our meetings and in our follow-up correspondence we promised to keep these offices updated as we move through the process.  These meetings also provided our first opportunity in the 111th Congress to begin to establish a working relationship with Congressional staff members.  


Although the National Mediation Board (NMB) is not considered a top priority agency for Presidential appointments, President Obama nominated a new member to the board within his first 100 days in office. This timely nomination was due in large part to AFA’s grassroots advocacy and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard’s letter to the President, signed by over 86 members of Congress.   Ms Linda Puchala, current senior mediator with the NMB was named to replace current board member Ms Read Van de Water.  Ms Puchala is a former Republic Flight Attendant and served as AFA President.  Her appointment to the National Mediation Board now awaits Senate confirmation. 

The Bush appointed National Mediation Board (NMB), led by former Northwest Airlines Director of Government Affairs, Ms Van de Water, has increasingly titled in favor of employers over employees, making organizing efforts and representational elections more difficult.  Through action and inaction, the NMB has placed obstacles in the path of workers instead of facilitating organizing and collective bargaining.  The NMB’s 2-1 decision that excluded evidence of Delta Airlines blatant propaganda campaign and harassment of Union activists and the NMB’s  refusal to investigate AFA’s charges of interference during our 2008 organizing campaign are clear examples of how broken the NMB has become. 

As an independent federal agency charged with the responsibility of administering and implementing the Railway Labor Act (RLA), the National Mediation Board is made up of three members who are appointed by the President and serve staggered three-year terms.  No more than two of the board members can be from the same political party as the President.  The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee reviews the nomination of NMB members preceding full Senate confirmation. AFA is hopeful that Senate confirmation of Ms Puchala will take place soon.        

 The NMB has oversight of elections for Union representation and plays a part in the mediation stage of the collective bargaining process. The appointment of Ms Puchala is an encouraging and positive step for all United Flight Attendants now that we have entered into Railway Labor Act Section 6 negotiations.  The NMB will play a central role in our negotiations if AFA and the company cannot reach a new tentative Collective Bargaining Agreement by August 7, 2009.  At that time, we will jointly request the services of the National Mediation Board. 



Every few years Congress is supposed to re-evaluate the priorities of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and assign funding for its programs in a “reauthorization” bill.   The FAA is currently operating under a  Reauthorization bill that expired in 2007, because  the 110th Congress failed to complete action to “reauthorize” the FAA.  Congress has had to pass a series of funding extensions in order to keep the FAA operating.  The 111th Congress extended the current level of FAA funding through the end of the fiscal year.     

Before it can be enacted into law, the FAA Reauthorization bill goes through the same process as all bills introduced in the US Congress including introduction; referral to committee(s); debate and vote in committee; debate and vote on House/Senate floor; referral to conference committee if approved in both House and Senate; and then referral to the President. 

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a $70 billion FAA Reauthorization bill, H.R. 915, in March.  The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation has not completed action on their version of FAA Reauthorization, however, they are expected to do so shortly.  Before the April recess, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation, Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing on FAA Reauthorization – NexTGen and the Benefits of Modernization, with testimony from Joe Kolshak, United Airlines, Senior Vice President of Operations.  Funding for a next-generation (NextGen)  air traffic control satellite based system is a top priority for United.      

Both the Senate and House versions of FAA Reauthorization bill contained several improvements for Flight Attendants.  AFA-CWA will work with the appropriate congressional committee staff to ensure that our priorities remain in this must-pass legislation, when new bills are written for the 111th Congress to approve.  

The FAA reauthorization process presents an opportunity for AFA to address a number of our priority issues.  AFA’s Government Affairs Director Shane Larson has been working with both the House and Senate Aviation Subcommittees to ensure that key Flight Attendant issues are addressed in the bills.  The provisions contained in the House FAA Reauthorization bill include: 

  • Expansion of the Human Intervention Management Study (HIMS):  This provision establishes a return to work program to allow flight attendants an opportunity for rehabilitation after testing positive for drug or alcohol abuse. 
  • Continuation of Flight Attendant Fatigue Study:  Nearly $1 million was appropriated in the 2007 Omnibus Appropriations bill for the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) to carry out a detailed comprehensive study of Flight Attendant fatigue. CAMI researchers are currently in the filed collecting data and the final results of the study are due no later than June 2010.  
  • Cabin Air Quality:  This provision mandates the completion of the air quality study and analysis, including the collection of samples of the air and testing for contaminants. 
  • Pesticide Spraying Passenger Notification:   This provision would require, upon purchasing tickets, that passengers be notified if pesticides will be applied on the flight. 
  • Cabin Temperature Standards Study:  This language calls for a study of extreme cabin temperatures.
  • Occupational Safety and Health-like Protections for Flight Attendants:  This provision establishes Cabin Occupational Safety and Health Inspectors to ensure the aircraft cabin is free from hazards that could cause physical harm to Flight Attendants. It requires the FAA Administrator to conduct rulemaking proceedings to address, at a minimum, recordkeeping; blood borne pathogens; noise; sanitation; hazard communication; anti-discrimination; access to employee exposure and medical records; and temperature standards for the aircraft. 
  • Cell phone prohibition:   A provision prohibiting the use of cell phones onboard commercial flights was included. 

In addition, the House FAA Reauthorization bill:

  • Requires the FAA to inspect all certificated foreign repair stations twice a year
  • Provides funding levels for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).
  • It directs the FAA to modify its customer service initiative to remove air carriers or other entities regulated by the Agency as “customers” and clarify that the Agency’s only customers are the individuals traveling on an aircraft. 
  • Creates an independent Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office within the FAA.
  • It requires the FAA to rotate principle supervisory inspectors between airline oversight offices every five years
  • It directs the agency to clarify that the air carriers it regulates do not have the right to select the FAA employees who will inspect their operations.
  • It establishes a two year “post service” cooling off period for FAA inspectors before they can act as representatives before the agency of the certificate holders they oversaw while working for the FAA.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair, James Oberstar (D-MN) also included a section in the 2009 FAA Reauthorization bill for the Comptroller General to study the effects airline alliances and anti-trust immunity and a provision to sunset antitrust immunity for all existing alliances, three years after the FAA bill is enacted.   The sunset provision would ensure that if policy changes were needed, the Department of Transportation would have time to examine and implement them.  US and foreign carriers could then reapply for antitrust immunity under the new policies adopted. 

The Air Transport Association (ATA), which is now chaired by United CEO Glen Tilton, is actively lobbying the Obama Administration to resist Chairman Oberstar’s antitrust immunity amendment.  ATA is adamantly opposed the antitrust immunity sunset provision.  The ATA also opposes the House FAA Reauthorization bill “as it is currently crafted”  including the AFA supported provision providing occupational health and safety protections for Flight Attendants and the provision requiring the FAA to inspect all aviation  foreign repair stations.    


AFA expects a Senate version of the Airline Flight Crew Technical Correction Act to be introduced when the Senate returns from their April District Work Period recess.  Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will be the lead sponsor of the bill.  The legislation will clarify the original Family and Medical Leave law and ensure that flight crews are treated fairly and have equal access when applying for these benefits.   

In February, the House passed the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act, HR 912, by a unanimous voice vote.  Congressmen Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Thad McCotter (R-MI) introduced the bill along with 52 House cosponsors.    


AFA has been working with Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) to introduce legislation requiring limitations for carry-on baggage.  The legislation would limit passengers to one carry-on bag not to exceed 45 linear inches, and one small personal item.  There would be several exceptions included in the bill including an exemption for crewmembers in uniform.  The language and enforcement procedures are still being reviewed.  At a recent meeting Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA) had with AFA Members in his Washington State District office, he committed to supporting this legislation upon introduction.  


The Employee Free Choice Act was reintroduced in both the House and Senate last month.  This legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join or assist Unions and provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts.  The Employee Free Choice Act would allow workers to join a Union if a majority of workers sign a card signifying their intent to do so, strengthens penalties for employers who intimidate, harass or fire workers who try to form Unions and provides for arbitration if an employer does not bargain in good faith for a first contract.  Employers who now break the law by retaliating against Union activists consider the miniscule fines they must pay the cost of doing business. 

The bill, first introduced in 2003, represents a critical change to the nation’s labor law and repairs a broken system that is badly tilted in favor of business.  Current labor law already requires workers to obtain signed Union authorization cards but it is up to the employer to decide whether to have an election or just use majority “card check”.  Most employers require elections because it gives them time to control the process and work their anti-Union rhetoric.  

The United States Chamber of Commerce and allied anti-union business organizations have mounted a vicious publicity campaign and lobbying offensive against the Employee Free Choice Act.  These anti-Union groups claim that the legislation would eliminate the secret ballot and would hurt business at a time when the economy is suffering.  The legislation does not eliminate the secret ballot; it transfers the decision to hold an election from the employer to the employees.  The business community’s argument that Unions hurt business makes little sense when the ability of workers to form Unions helps economic growth and strengthens workers’ purchasing power, which is critical to a sustainable economy. 

A similar bill passed in the House in 2007 but stalled in the Senate.  Once again, the Employee Free Choice Act is expected to have enough votes to pass the House easily, but getting 60 votes it needs to overcome a possible filibuster in the Senate could be difficult.  Republican Senator Arlen Specter (PA), who supported the Employee Free Choice Act in the last session of Congress, and voted against the filibuster, has decided he is now against the legislation.  So even if Democrat Al Franken, who is in a contested election against Republican Norm Coleman, is seated as the newly elected Senator from Minnesota, the Employee Free Choice Act may be one critical vote short of the 60 needed to move the legislation to the Senate floor. 

During the April 6-17 Congressional District Work Period workers and community groups will be meeting with the local offices of members of the House and Senate to urge support for the Employee Free Choice Act. Events in support  of the Employee Free Choice Act are taking place around the country letting elected officials know that passage of this bill is critical to rebuilding the middle class. 

The Employee Free Choice Act puts the power to choose a Union back where it belongs – in the hands of the workers.  It will restore workers’ power to bargain for a better life and share in the prosperity they help create. 


I have included the list of the 39 Senate cosponsors and 224 House cosponsors for the Employee Free Act, S. 560 (bill number in the Senate) and HR 1409 (bill number in the House).  If your Senators or Representative are NOT listed please call their office, identify yourself by name and address and as a member of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, ask to speak to the staff person in the office who handles labor issues and ask why Senator or Representative is not supporting the legislation.  Please let the staff person know that you strongly support the legislation.


The House Education and Labor Committee, under the leadership of Chairman George Miller (D-CA), has been holding a series of Congressional hearings to examine how the current financial crisis is impacting Americans’ retirement security, including workers’ directed retirement accounts like 401(k) plans.   Chairman Miller’s committee wants to preserve and strengthen 401(K)s for Americans by:

  • Expose excess fees that Wall Street middle managers take from workers accounts.
  • Bring young and low-wage workers into the system at higher rate, through automatic enrollment for employers already offering 401(k) plans.
  • Ensure that retirement accounts have diversified investment options with low fees.
  • Ensure workers have reliable, objective, independent investment advice.
  • Reduce vesting periods and improve portability of 401(k) accounts.

The Senate has also been pursuing efforts to strengthen retirement accounts and ensuring workers have the information they need to make good retirement fund decisions.  The Defined Contribution Fee Disclosure Act of 2009, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the US Senate Special Committee on Aging, would require 401(k) plan providers to disclose all fees.  This legislation would help workers obtain fee information in an easily understandable format by:

  • Increasing the information given to employers who sponsor 401(k) plans. The information would then be passed on to participants upon request;
  • Giving participants information about the overall levels of fees when they chose investment options and on their quarterly statements, and
  • Require disclosure of relationships between all parties with financial interest in the plan. 

Last Congress, Senator Harkin introduced the Restoring Pension Promises to Workers Act, which would require that if a company is profitable enough to afford gold-plated pensions for its executives then it must provide at least a basic pension for rank-and-file employees. 

Also, last December (2008), Congress approved and President Bush signed into law bipartisan legislation that would temporarily suspend a tax penalty for seniors who do not take the minimum withdrawal from their retirement accounts in 2009, such as 401(k)s.   The Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act, H.R. 7327, suspends the Internal Revenue Service requirement for one year that account holders of 410(k)-style plans must withdraw a minimum amount every year after they reach 70 1/2 years old.  This suspension would be available to everyone regardless of their retirement account balances.


On January 30, 2009, President Barack Obama announced the creation of a White House Task Force targeted at raising the living standards of middle class working families.  The task force, which is chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, is composed of top level administration policy makers, who will conduct regular outreach sessions with representatives of labor, business and other advocacy groups.  

The goals of the task force:

  • Expanding education and lifelong training opportunities
  • Improving work and family balance
  • Restoring labor standards, including workplace safety
  • Helping to protect middle class and working family incomes
  • Protecting retirement security. 

In announcing the Task Force, President Obama  said “We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class with out a strong labor movement.” 

President Obama signed three pro-labor executive orders during the introduction of the Task Force.  The first prevents federal contractors from discouraging their employees to join Unions;   the second assures that workers keep their jobs when a contract changes hands; and the third is a future order to promote project agreements on construction contracts.  
With a labor friendly Administration and a greatly expanded worker friendly majority in Congress, the next two years offer numerous opportunities for AFA to move a legislative agenda that truly benefits our Members.  AFA has many friends in Congress, on both sides of the aisle.  We worked hard to win those friends because for every issue that is important to us, we need dozens of Congressional allies to move it forward.


If we are to play an active role in advancing our legislative goals, we must have the political visibility that comes with a Political Action Committee.  Even with the modest resources of FlightPAC, our ability to carry our message to Congress is greatly enhanced when we have the ability to attend fundraising events, both in Washington, DC and locally. 

This month, AFA members in the Seattle area will be attending a fundraiser for Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).  In February, AFA members from Chicago attended a fundraiser for Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL).  It is at these type of events that we get the opportunity for lengthy face-to-face time with some of our friends.  We can explain our concerns about the enormous amount of carry-on luggage that passengers are now bringing onboard or tell our stories about our colleagues who were unable to qualify for Family and Medical Leave.  

When AFA members understand what FlightPAC is and how Union dues cannot be used to help to elect Flight Attendant friendly candidates to federal office, they are more apt to contribute.  With this report, I have included a draft letter you or your Local Council Government Affairs Committee can use to help increase FlightPAC participation.   We also have a new FlightPAC brochure.  If you would like some for your Local Council office, please let me know.  

Flight Attendant procedures for stopping their payroll deductions to FlightPAC are included in our Contract.   To change a current payroll deduction a Flight Attendant just needs to fill out a new FlightPAC enrollment form.   



Recently we learned that some large institutions that received funds from the US Treasury under provisions designed to restore liquidity to the US financial system and stabilize the housing finance market, paid sizable bonuses to executives and other highly compensated employees.  Both the public and many members of Congress expressed outrage that institutions that were depending on public funds for their continued existence during a severe economic downturn would provide excessive bonuses and retention payments to employees while the public funds were still outstanding.   

In response to this situation legislation was introduced and passed in the US House of Representatives   that would amend the executive compensation provisions of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 to prohibit unreasonable and excessive compensation and compensation not based on performance standards. This legislation only addresses executives and employees from financial institutions and federal home loan banks that received direct capitol investments under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) or under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. 


A recent editorial in the conservative Washington Times erroneously claimed that President Obama was quietly ending the Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO) program, “risking public safety on airlines in the name of an anti-gun ideology.”  The editorial also stated that the Obama administration “diverted some $2 million from the pilot training program to hire more supervisory staff, who will engage in field inspection of pilots.”  

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) responded to the editorial saying that the FFDO program was not shutting down and that the agency continues to recruit, train and deploy new Federal Flight Deck officers.  The TSA recently opened a new training facility in Atlantic City and has plans to open other training facilities in the future. 

After the editorial was published representatives from the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) met with the TSA and were told that the TSA embraces the FFDO program, that there were no plans to reduce or restrict its growth and that the agency fully intends to grow and expand the program.  

The author of the editorial said his information came from three pilots who did not want to speak on the record for fear of retaliation from the Transportation Security Administration.  The Washington Times has removed the editorial from its web site and has called the claim an “error.” 


Randy Babbitt, aviation consultant and former President of the Air Line Pilots Association, has been nominated to serve as the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.  His nomination, like that of Ms Puchala, is pending Senate confirmation. 

Return to Government Affairs Reports home page

top of page