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There is more than just passenger air service to rural airports at stake in the impasse between the U.S. House and Senate over the FAA extension bill. In fact, the major stumbling block seems to center around the ability of airline and railroad workers to unionize.

Section 903 of the House version of the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (HR 658) repeals a rule adopted by the National Mediation Board earlier this year that would make union representation elections for workers covered under the Railway Labor Act more fair. Under the new rule, elections are decided by the majority of votes cast,the standard procedure in democratic elections. Previously, the non-votes of all eligible voters were considered 'no' votes.

Democrats strenuously objected to the inclusion of the repealer.

Rep Nick Rahall(D-WV):

A provision overturning that rule simply has no business being in this pending legislation. It has nothing to do with safety, nothing to do with improving our air transportation system and it has nothing to do with making air service more efficient

Rep Jerry Costello(D-IL)introduced an amendment during the 16 February markup to strike it from the bill:

Section 903 is a poison pill that will kill the FAA bill and must be taken out in order to pass the Senate and be signed by the President.

But Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN), co-sponsor of the FAA bill, defended the anti-union provision:

I would have to respectfully disagree with this amendment. In the process of looking back we have to remind my colleagues here that we've had 75 years of history in this unionization, I doubt anyone in this room thinks that there are too many unions. So my opinion is, that being a union member myself, if we want to organize a union within a property we can do that, but we have to ensure that everyone on that property is engaged in ensuring that union becomes part, on that property. So I urge my colleagues to not support this amendment because as, as a union member if you have small group of activist union members that manage to place a union in place in an organization you're going to have disharmony within in that organization if the other parts of that body feel that they've been left out in the process. So I urge my colleagues to vote against this amendment.

The Costello amendment narrowly failed by a vote of 29 - 30.  The bill was subsequently passed out of committee, 34 -25. Cravaack, of course, voted for it.

On 31 March, the Democrats tried once again to remove the onerous provision from the bill by enlisting the help of Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio, the lone voice of reason in the Repubican caucus.  LaTourette introduced an amendment on the House floor to strike section 903 from the bill:

Let me just make this observation. This is the 17th extension, I believe, of the FAA bill. We haven't had an FAA bill since 2003, and this is going to take it to two more years because the President said he won't sign this bill unless this amendment is adopted. The Senate has declared this a nonstarter; and so if we want to give fancy speeches, and for those just tuning in around the country, welcome to whack the union night because this will be a fourth, fifth anti-union vote that has nothing to do with the aviation system.

It failed on a 206 - 220 vote, with Cravaack again voting against removal of the anti-union language.

The transportation bill came up for final passage in the House on 1 April. Cravaack spoke against a motion to recommit (send back to committee). The motion failed and the bill passed by vote of 223 - 196, with the anti-union language intact. Cravaack voted yes.

The Senate refused to concur with the language and appointed a conference committee to hammer out differences with the House. The House still has not appointed any conferees.

With the current authorization set to expire on 22 July, a lights on bill was needed to keep the FAA fully operational. The Senate wanted a clean FAA extension, but the House insisted on including a controversial provision that would remove 13 rural airports from the Essential Air Services program.

The House took up the extension bill on 20 July. Again, Chip Cravaack (chair of the EAS work group) spoke against a motion to recommit, urging support for the extension. And again the motion was defeated and the extension passed 243-177, with Cravaack voting yes along with his Tea Party colleagues.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV),chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, blasted the House action:

The House passed an FAA extension that, unlike the twenty previous FAA extensions, included changes to FAA policy that have not been agreed to in both chambers....This House bill was developed in a partisan manner.  It had a number of problematic provisions added during floor consideration.  Central to these was a decision to include language that would reverse a National Mediation Board (NMB) decision from the previous year.  The NMB provision was so tainted it passed by just seven votes in the House.  Consideration of the final FAA package passed in the House by a party line vote of 223-to-196.

The Washington Post reports:

Rockefeller accused Mica of including the rural airport provision in the extension bill in retaliation for the Senate’s refusal to accept the labor provision. "Your attempt to punish the Senate by hurting small-community air service has backfired. This language only guarantees that the Senate will reject the FAA extension,” Rockefeller said in a letter sent to Mica on Tuesday. Mica didn’t deny that, saying it was a message to the Senate that “we want this finally resolved.

Despite their assertions to the contrary, the House Republicans have done nothing to negotiate with the Senate, have shown no indication of striking the anti-labor language from the bill and it appears they are not willing to compromise on the EAS program as well: a staff person in Rep. Mica's office confirmed that the EAS workgroup has not met for three months. This is a classic example of the brinksmanship strategy that the Tea Party has employed throughout the nation.

Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee made their intentions clear in his opening statement of the markup:

We are not going to do an 18th extension.

And indeed they didn't.

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