United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: November 1, 2009
Type: Report


On Tuesday, November 10, 2009, the U.S. Senate approved the Airline Flight Crew
Family and Medical Leave Act, S. 1422, to provide Flight Attendants with equal access to Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits. The concern of some Republican Senators that commute time would be counted towards hours of FMLA eligibility was addressed through an amendment to the bill. This cleared the anonymous hold that had been placed on the bill, so the legislation could move forward in the Senate.

To alleviate any concerns and help quell some Republicans’ fears that personal commute time would be counted towards FMLA eligibility, the words not counting “personal commute time” were included to clarify hours of service. Because of this slight change in the language, the bill will require House approval. However, our House sponsors were aware of this and are prepared to take quick action in the House to clear the Senate version. So, while we are not done yet, we have cleared the biggest hurdle. The Senate enacted S. 1422 under unanimous consent.

Once the S.1422 is approved in the House and sent to the President for his signature, we no longer will have to rely on negotiations for Flight Attendants to be eligible for FMLA. Flight Attendants will be granted access to the same coverage that has benefited working families since FMLA legislation was enacted in 1993, rather than company policy.


On Saturday, November 7, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. health care system. The Affordable Health Care For America Act, H.R. 3962, passed late at night, by a razor thin vote of 220-215, after a full day of debate on the House floor. All but one Republican, Representative Joseph Cao (R-LA), voted against the bill. Representative Cao’s vote fulfills President Obama’s pledge to get the bill passed with bipartisan support.

The bill includes a requirement for individuals to have health insurance and for large businesses to provide it to their employees. Young adults will be allowed to remain on their parents policy up to their 27th birthday. It includes a public health insurance option that is not tied to Medicare. Savings from delivery system reform and other cost-control measures will slow employers’ skyrocketing health care costs and increase employers’ competitiveness.

The legislation was strongly supported by CWA and the AFL-CIO because it will:

  • NOT tax our benefits but impose a surtax on the country’s highest earners
  • Let us keep the health care we have
  • Require employers to provide coverage
  • Reduce health care costs so we can get more at the bargaining table
  • Protect retirees
  • Stop insurance company abuses and create a public health insurance option

United Airlines opposes the House bill.

Health care reform now faces an uphill battle in the U.S. Senate. Senate Democrats are struggling to agree on how to pay for the overhaul and whether to create a new public insurance plan to compete with private insurers. Health care reform will once again consume the vast majority of attention in the Senate.

AFA-CWA stands united with all of CWA and the AFL-CIO affiliates in opposition to any provision in a Senate bill that taxes our benefits. The AFA-CWA Government Affairs Department has been spending time with Congressional offices to ensure that the legislative definition of “full time” employee, for the purposes of health care, does not leave out Flight Attendants. AFA-CWA will remain vigilant throughout this process to ensure that we do not once again fall through the cracks.


While we understand the benefits of sound alliance partnerships, we need to remain vigilant about the potential threats to our jobs that come with greater internationalization and globalization in the aviation industry. Open Skies policies and antitrust immunity are enabling U.S. carriers to seek creative solutions to enter new international markets. The newest example is the recent “joint venture” between United and Aer Lingus.

AFA-CWA and ALPA are working together on legislative language that would help protect the jobs of aviation workers. The proposed language would require an airlines’ share of pooled profits to be no more than 130% of that airline’s share of the available seat miles on routes covered by joint venture agreements.

The proposed bill would ensure that there is a close correlation between the portion of revenue a U.S. airline receives from a revenue sharing agreement and the amount of actual flying the airline contributes to that arrangement. Requiring U.S. carriers “to play to get paid” will help prevent wholesale outsourcing of jobs and ensure that aviation workers receive a fair share of the jobs that support the revenue sharing partnership. The bill would also require the Department of Transportation to approve revenue sharing arrangements between U.S. and foreign carriers before being implemented.

On November 4 & 5, Ken Diaz and I joined the ALPA United MEC Legislative Committee, in Washington, D.C., to visit Senate offices to discuss our concerns about international joint venture revenue sharing arrangements. During this first round of lobby visits, we met with 13 friendly Senate offices, mostly from States where United has hubs. These offices included: Senators Durbin (D-IL), Burris (D-IL), Boxer (D-CA), Udall (D-CO), Bennet (D-CO), Feingold (D-WI), Murray (D-WA), Cantwell (D-WA), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Menendez (D-NJ), Schumer (D-NY), Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kerry (D-MA).


Since 1991, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has banned the inflight use of cell phones because of potential interference with ground networks. The FCC proposed modifying this ban in 2004, but subsequently withdrew the proposal based on comments it received, including the strong messages sent through AFA-CWA’s E-Activist campaign. The final authority on the use of cell phones and other transmitting electronics during flight rests with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Although the House has included an inflight cell phone ban in their version of FAA Reauthorization, the Senate FAA Reauthorization bill, which passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, does not include a similar ban. We still have an opportunity to include a cell phone ban in the Senate bill, as an amendment while the bill is debated on the Senate floor. However, to accomplish this we need to ramp up our grassroots efforts, asking our Members to continue calling and writing their Senators urging them to support an in-flight cell phone ban.

The cell phone industry continues their aggressive lobby campaign to lift the current FCC ban.


The National Mediation Board (NMB) proposed a rule change to revise the biased voting rules that govern Union elections in the airline and railroad industries. The proposed change would allow the majority of workers who actually vote to decide the election and would end the NMB’s default practice of assigning “NO” votes to those who do not participate. The change had been requested by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

NMB Board members Linda Puchala and Harry Hoglander issued the proposal. NMB Chair Elizabeth Dougherty, an adviser to former President George W. Bush on labor and transportation issues who was appointed to the NMB in 2006, dissented from the proposal.

  • Congressional Support for NMB Rule Change

Representative George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sent a letter to the three member National Mediation Board (NMB), in support of a change to the current election procedures.

AFA-CWA is working on a sign-on letter from various Democratic House members and Senators in support of the NMB proposal. A similar support letter was generated by some of our Republican friends in the House.

  • Opposing Views

In contrast, Representatives John Kline (R-MN), ranking member on the Education and Labor Committee, and John Mica (R-FL), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, issued a joint statement calling the proposal ill-advised. Mica said the rule change would "allow a clear minority of workers to force unionization upon all workers, including those who are not interested in being represented by a union." In a recent letter to NMB anticipating the proposal, Kline and Mica wrote that the rule change would mark "a drastic and fundamental change to longstanding rules under the Railway Labor Act, rules tied to important national policies recognizing the importance of air transportation to commerce and the need for union representation that has majority support."

The Air Transport Association (ATA) remains firm in its position that the National Mediation Board does not have the authority to change the rules. ATA believes this is a right reserved for Congress.

Opposition to this rule change will be loud and fierce. The vehemently anti-union National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation and the well-funded United States Chamber of Commerce are arguing against the proposed change.

  • Comment Period

The National Mediation Board says it will make a final decision on the rule change after a 60-day comment period. Comments are due on or before January 4, 2010 and may be submitted by mail or hand-delivery to the National Mediation Board, 1301 K Street, N.W., Suite 250E, Washington, D.C. 2005; by FAX 202.692.5085; by e-mail to legal@nmb.gov; or through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov
Comments should be identified by Docket Number C-6964.


There were two Congressional elections this month to replace members of Congress who have taken positions in the Obama Administration. Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi (D) won a special election to replace Representative Ellen Tauscher (D) in California’s 10th Congressional District. Representative Tauscher sat on the House Aviation Subcommittee and was a strong advocate for our issues. The Government Affairs Committee will miss working with her.

In a special election to fill Army Secretary John McHugh’s (R) vacant House seat, Democrat Bill Owens won in upstate New York’s traditionally Republican 23rd District. He defeated Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. The Republican nominee and political moderate New York State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava withdrew from the election under pressure from the Republican Party’s right-wing.

Ms Scozzafava quit the race after coming under attack by conservative activists who opposed her liberal views on social issues and her ties to labor (she is married to a Union member.) Prominent national conservatives including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) urged Republican voters to support the third party candidate Doug Hoffman.

This concludes my report. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Return to Government Affairs Reports home page

top of page