United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: May 1, 2009
Type: Report

Before leaving for their Memorial Day week recess the US House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on authorization bills for both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Both of these bills have important AFA initiated provisions.

Family and Medical Leave Act Technical Correction

We remain optimistic that we will see a bill introduced in the Senate this week.  Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has agreed to not oppose the bill. You may recall that his opposition to the legislation in the last Congress kept the legislation from moving forward.

He and Senator Patty Murray's (D-WA) staff have been engaged in a discussion about introduction of the bill.  Senator Enzi has asked for Senator Murray to engage in a discussion with him on the Senate floor when it is introduced to stress that this bill is unique and not meant to cover employees other than Flight Attendants and pilots.  This is a positive development.  Everyone should please be patient as this is how the Senate operates and the best way to get things done in the Senate. Having Senator Enzi’s support now is an amazing accomplishment.
I have had numerous questions about “what’s taking so long?” The legislation was able to be brought up and approved in an expedited manner in the House for a number of reasons. First and foremost was the overwhelming bipartisan support the legislation gained in the House. This was due to the incredible grassroots support we built for this issue during the two years of the previous session of Congress. All of our calls, lobby visits and letters and communications to our Membership made the difference. Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY), the lead House sponsor of the legislation, was committed to getting the legislation passed in the House quickly and early because he understood that Flight Attendants deserved the benefit of the federal law.

But as we all know, the United States Senate operates in a much more deliberative manner. Once the legislation is introduced in the Senate we will begin an aggressive grassroots campaign to gain cosponsors to move the legislation forward. We will need to work quickly to ensure that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee can schedule the legislation for mark-up as soon as possible.

FAA Reauthorization

In the US House of Representatives:

The House Transportation Committee passed out its version of the FAA Reauthorization bill several weeks ago.  We expect final passage of the bill off the House floor this week.  The bill is very good for us and includes a number of very important provisions.  Here are the issues included:

  1. Cell phone ban.  Congressman DeFazio's ban on the use of cell phones or voice over internet onboard flights in operation is included.  It has become slightly controversial as the cell phone industry is fighting the ban.
  2. Fatigue study
  3. OSHA-like workplace safety and health protections
  4. Notification of pesticide application on flights
  5. Cabin Air Quality provisions to begin development of air quality sensors and filtration
  6. HIMS program expansion to cover Flight Attendants
  7. Temperature standards for aircraft
  8. Further definition of provisions restricting foreign control of US Airlines
  9. Anti-trust review for airline alliances every three years

Antitrust Immunity

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman, James Oberstar (D-MN) has some serious concerns about the broad scope of antitrust immunity that has been granted to US airlines to form alliances with US and international airline partners. Chairman Oberstar introduced a “manager’s amendment” to his Committee’s FAA Reauthorization bill which included language to allow analysis of antitrust immunity grants. This provision also sunsets existing grants of antitrust immunity every three years, renewable based on the policies in effect at the time of the request.

Alliances and code sharing partnerships allow United and other US air carriers to turn over their international passengers to their code share partners resulting in loss of flying and reduced competition. Shareholders benefit while employees lose jobs, consumers experience reduced competition and communities lose air service.

The Air Transport Association (ATA), the US airline industry lobby group, and its Chairman Glenn Tilton, are advocating for a US aviation policy free of any government oversight or regulation that interferes with business decisions and are actively lobbying to oppose the Oberstar provision. They have been aggressively lobbying Congress to strip the Oberstar provision from the House FAA Reauthorization bill.

In addition to the grassroots campaign launched through DEAR AFA, Government Affairs Committee members have been calling on members of the House urging them to support the FAA Reauthorization bill when it comes to the floor for a vote and to support Chairman Oberstar’s provision on antitrust immunity. With the collapse of the banking industry, due in part to widespread deregulation, this is a time that our government should be strengthening their oversight over mega airline alliances.

In the US Senate:

The Senate is moving forward with their version of FAA Reauthorization to make the necessary changes to modernize the US aviation system. Last week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing and invited aviation stakeholders to share their perspectives on FAA reauthorization.

Bill McGlashen, Executive Assistant to the International President, testified for AFA-CWA at the hearing on AFA’s priorities for the Senate version of the FAA Reauthorization.  Bill’s testimony emphasized the serious concern of Flight Attendant fatigue. His testimony pointed out that the FAA continues to routinely allow carriers to schedule reduced rest periods for Flight Attendants and has failed to show any concern for the impact that Flight Attendant fatigue has on the overall safety of the aviation system.

Bill asked the Committee to ensure that a provision banning the inflight use of cell phones and Voice Over Internet Protocol was included in their legislation and urged the Committee to take steps to end the Federal Aviation Administration’s decades long policy of ignoring the serious risk posed by contaminated aircraft air. In closing, Bill urged the Committee members to include aviation workers in any discussion and debate on formulating our national aviation policy.

Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Standards

The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), has reiterated their support for the aircraft rescue and firefighting standards language included in the FAA Reauthorization bill. The bill directs the FAA to update current regulations and requirements to ensure that firefighters have the training and resources to properly respond to emergency situations and to rescue passengers and aircraft crewmembers. Current fire department staffing levels, infrastructure and equipment are inadequate to effectively respond to passenger rescue and evacuation.

The FAA has not updated its firefighting regulations in over 20 years. These firefighting standards should have been updated because the law requires federal agencies to comply with national voluntary consensus standards. All other standards-making bodies that address airport firefighting, including the Department of Defense, the National Fire Protection Association and the International Civil Aviation Organization have standards for safe and effective airport and rescue firefighting that far exceed FAA standards.

Despite the fact that there is widespread agreement that FAA standards need to be improved the Airports Council International, North America, a trade association of US airports and the American Association of Airport Executives are opposing these improvements.

Improved FAA firefighting standards have been included in the House FAA Reauthorization bill and hopefully included in the Senate’s version of the bill.

Security Training - TSA Authorization

The House Homeland Security Committee has been working for the last month on advancing a bill Authorization the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  Shane Larson, AFA International Director of Government Affairs has spent a great deal of time the last month working with the Committee and our friends in Congress to ensure that our longstanding issue of mandatory self defense, anti-terrorism training was included in the legislation.  After a long and grueling bill drafting process, including a vote in the Subcommittee and then a vote in the full Committee, the final bill includes language that would mandate hands-on, mandatory self defense training of not less than 5 hours be provided for all Flight Attendants every 2 years.  We were facing stiff opposition from airline management.

In the end, the strong leadership of Chairwoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS), as well as the passionate support of Republican Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan helped us prevail on this legislation.  In addition, the support odf Congressman Charlie Dent (R-PA) was crucial as he is the Ranking member of the Subcommittee with jurisdiction. His willingness to work with us helped override some of the initial opposition to the language.

The final bill will also be on the House floor this week for final action.  We expect the friends of the airlines to make an effort to demonize our security training and possibly even strip it out of the bill.  We are working to avoid that fight and be prepared that our friends in the House are able to rally to our defense and speak on our behalf on the House floor.

Emergency Contingency Planning

AFA International President, Pat Friend was invited to testify at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, May 20, 2009. The hearing was titled Aviation Consumer Issues: Emergency Contingency Planning and Outlook for Summer Travel. Pat’s testimony focused on the problems experienced during the H1N1 crisis. The health emergency surrounding the spread of the H1N1 virus brought air travel and the spread of infectious diseases onboard the aircraft to the forefront of the government and the public’s attention.

The Subcommittee was pleased to hear the perspective of the front line employees and the steps we requested the FAA Administrator to take in the early days of the H1N! outbreak. The FAA has still not responded to AFA’s April 27th letter outlining our recommendations for the permanent steps that must be taken by the FAA to minimize the threat posed by any public health emergency to protect those who work onboard the aircraft and the passengers.

In addressing summer travel, Pat spoke about how a passenger bill of rights would not solve the problems of our nation’s outdated air traffic control system. Pat explained that Flight Attendants understand the frustrations passengers feel when stranded on airplanes for hours, because we are there too. She warned, however, that if a passenger “Bill of Rights”was enacted Flight Attendants would become “trapped between federal mandates and management’s inability or unwillingness to take the necessary steps to implement and enforce the Bill of Rights.”

Puchala National Mediation Board (NMB) Nomination

We have no new update other than the fact that the Committee is trying to move her nomination to the floor as quickly as possible.  There was a delay due to the incredibly full Committee schedule.  We have heard that Linda has met with many Republican members and staff and they have all been impressed with her.

Return to Government Affairs Reports home page

top of page