United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: August 22, 2011
Type: Report


Last month, the US House of Representatives voted to extend the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operating authority for the 21st time. The previous 20 extensions had been fairly routine, however, this 21st extension, included a provision eliminating federal subsidies for airline service to 13 rural airports. 

Representative John Mica (R-FL) Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure included this provision as retaliation for the Senate’s refusal to accept the House version of FAA reauthorization which overturns the election rule change implemented by the National Mediation Board (NMB) last year.  The NMB’s rule change eliminated the draconian “super-majority” requirement which now allows representation elections governed by the NMB to be conducted the same way that every other democratic election is in this country. Union elections in the rail and aviation industries are now fair and democratic.   

The US Senate refused to hold the FAA reauthorization extension hostage over an anti-labor provision and did not pass an extension of FAA operations. Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, IV (D-WV) Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, rejected the House proposal and urged his House colleagues to send the Senate a clean FAA extension bill. Representative Mica rejected Senator Rockefeller’s request.

On July 22, the FAA became another victim of partisan politics and was forced to lay off 4,000 FAA employees and halt all airport improvement projects resulting in almost 100,000 airport construction workers losing their jobs. Every day last week while the Senate was in session, Senator Rockefeller took to the floor to reiterate the need to pass a clean FAA extension. Senator Rockefeller was highly critical of Delta Airlines for putting their own special interests and anti-union bias above important airport safety projects and the workers who were subsequently unemployed.

August Congressional Recess

It is shameful that Congress recessed for their August District Work period while 4,000 FAA employees and tens of thousands of airport construction workers remained unemployed because of the partial FAA shutdown. Who would have thought that the Republican House leadership that continues to lambast our President over job creation, would decide to leave town while putting almost 100,000 workers on the unemployment line.

AFA closely monitored action on this legislation and the impact of the partial FAA shutdown. Numerous press conferences and press calls, TV and radio interviews were held with AFA front and center on this issue. A press conference with Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was held at LaGuardia on August 1 urging the Senate to take action before leaving Washington for their recess.

Local labor community events were also held around the country and other events were organized. Local Council 25 President, Julie Morrissey participated in one of the first events, which was held in Las Vegas, protesting the House Republican Leadership’s decision to play politics with a normally non-controversial FAA funding extension process. RAFA Member Cicina Norton attended a rally at Oakland International Airport.

AFA JFK Council 5’s Government Affairs Committee was contacted by Representative Tim Bishop (D-NY) to help with a press conference at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport on Thursday, August 4. Representative Bishop (D-NY) and Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) were urging the Congressional Leadership to get back to work to resolve the FAA shutdown.

**** Addendum – Update to the Partial FAA Shutdown ****

August 5, Senate Leadership put aside partisan politics to end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) when Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) announced an agreement on the 21st extension of funding for the FAA.  The agreement does not end the important differences that remain but it does end the stalemate that caused the partial shutdown of the federal agency that is charged with the safety of civil aviation.  The Senate convened on Friday at 10:00AM and recessed 39 seconds later after passing the extension on a unanimous voice vote.  Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) presided, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) made the motion and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was the only other Senator in the chamber.  It was immediately sent to President Obama for his signature. 

The measure is just another temporary solution as it only extends the FAA’s operations through September 16, 2011.  Remember, the FAA has been operating under a series of short term extensions since the last long term FAA reauthorization bill expired in 2007.  Since then, the House and the Senate have worked through almost three sessions of Congress (the 109th Congress 2007-2008, the 110th Congress 2009-2010 and the 111th Congress 2011-2012) without reaching an agreement on legislation to reauthorize the FAA.  This year, both the House and the Senate have passed versions of FAA reauthorization but have yet to work out the differences in their bills. 

Before a bill can become law, the identical bill must pass both chambers of Congress.  The differences between the House and Senate FAA reauthorization bill will be worked out in a Conference Committee.  The Senate appointed their conference committee members in March.  However, the House has yet to name their conferees.  In the meantime, high level staff members have been meeting to combine the two bills and the House and Senate continue to pass short term extensions to keep the FAA operating.  That is until House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) decided to use the 21st extension to eliminate part of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, specifically to rural airports in key democratic states.   

Unfortunately, Representative Mica’s decision cost almost $400 million in uncollected ticket tax revenue (when the FAA shutdown airlines stopped collecting ticket taxes) and put 4,000 FAA employees and more than 70,000 airport construction workers out of work.   And while the Republican leadership framed the EAS issue publicly as a reduction in government spending by phasing out a government program that provides air service to rural airports, the real issue was the Republican leadership’s desire to reverse a decision by the National Mediation Board (NMB) to allow Union representation elections to be decided by majority vote. 

Senator Rockefeller’s Support

Since House Republicans leaders forced the shutdown of the FAA to gain the upper hand on negotiating an anti-labor provision in the FAA reauthorization bill, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) has championed aviation and rail workers’ right to fair and democratic elections. He exposed Delta Airlines as the carrier behind the anti-labor provision that put tens of thousands of workers around the country out of work and halted vital airport renovation projects.

Throughout the partial shutdown of the FAA, Senator Rockefeller criticized Delta’s management for their anti-union bias and has called upon his Republican colleagues to pass a clean FAA extension bill. As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senator Rockefeller wanted to move forward to negotiations on a final, comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill before the August recess. AFA International President Veda Shook had an opportunity to thank Senator Rockefeller, in person, at a recent Senate meeting.


On July 12, 2011, the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security heard testimony from two panels of industry experts on issues for possible inclusion in the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Authorization bill. The hearing was part of the Subcommittee’s process for writing a comprehensive TSA bill to improve TSA operations and address transportation security issues. Congress has not passed an authorization package for the TSA since it was created as part of the Homeland Security Department in 2001.

AFA’s Air Safety, Health and Security Director Chris Witkowski, the only labor representative to testify on the aviation panel, gave compelling testimony on the continued need for meaningful Flight Attendant security and self-defense training. Despite the fact that Congress has passed three different bills mandating Flight Attendant security training, corporate pressure and agency prejudice have interfered with Congressional intent.

Steve Schembs, our International Office Government Affairs Director, has been working with the Subcommittee and full Committee staff since January 2011 to have AFA’s counter terrorism measures included in the TSA authorization bill. These measures include comprehensive basic and recurrent Flight Attendant security training including hands on and classroom instruction; carry-on baggage limits; restrictions on passenger use of communication systems onboard the aircraft; and a discreet, hands-free wireless communication device for Flight Attendants.


Since the representation election there has been an increased interest in Local Council Members volunteering for the Government Affairs Committee. AFA LAX Council 12 will be hosting a Government Affairs Committee Regional Training September 8th. This training will be held at the Local Council 12 AFA Office.

The Los Angeles training will provide an overview of what the AFA Government Affairs Committee does, why it is important to be involved in government affairs and will cover “Government Affairs 101” including how a bill moves through Congress, grassroots lobbying, effective lobby skills, voter registration, FlightPAC and working with the Labor Community.

With the crucial 2012 Elections fast approaching, we hope to build on our grassroots network so that AFA Members can be actively involved in educating all AFA Members of the importance of the election and the issues, helping to register Flight Attendants to vote, providing information on early/absentee voting and getting out the vote to support the candidates that support us.


The April 2011 AFA Board of Directors officially endorsed the “Flight Attendant as First Responders” campaign as part of AFA’s overall objective to promote our Flight Attendant profession. The goal of this campaign is two fold: To educate policymakers and the public about the essential skills and important duties of Flight Attendants as first responders; and to raise awareness and appreciation

The public education piece of the campaign includes airport activities highlighting the Flight Attendant’s role as a first responder.


In last month’s report we reported that FlightPAC had endorsed Janice Hahn in the special election for CA Congressional District 36. Janice Hahn won her election and has been sworn in. We look forward to meeting with her office in both Washington and the District.

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