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Obama-Murray-Lautenberg Bill Seeks to Restore Fairness and Accountability to Air Traffic Controller-FAA Contract Talks - (1/26/2006)

WASHINGTON – Senators Barack Obama, D-Ill., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., today are introducing a bill that would force the Federal Aviation Administration to engage in productive, good faith contract negotiations with its unions, including the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The bill would deny the agency any ability to unilaterally impose a contract without the consent of Congress. Currently, the FAA believes that a loophole in the law gives it such power.

The law, section 40122 of title 49, U.S. Code, currently says that in the event of a breakdown in negotiations – an impasse – the FAA can send the contract to Congress, providing it the opportunity to get involved. If Congress chooses not to get involved, then the FAA believes it can unilaterally impose its last, best contract offer on NATCA, thereby removing any motivation for the FAA to negotiate in good faith. In fact, says NATCA President John Carr, “It is clearer than ever that the FAA is intent on claiming a breakdown in negotiations in order to force an agreement on us.”

Sen. Obama’s bill, called the “Federal Aviation Administration Fair Labor Management Dispute Resolution Act of 2006,” would create a three-step process for resolving an impasse:

A) MEDIATION – If the FAA does not reach agreement with the union, the parties will use the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to try and make a deal.

B) CONGRESSIONAL ACTION – If using FMCS does not result in an agreement, the FAA can send its contract offer to Congress, along with the union’s objections to the disputed portions of the offer. The FAA could not implement the offer unless a bill is enacted into law that specifically approves the offer.

C) BINDING ARBITRATION – If a bill is not enacted within 60 days of Congress receiving the FAA’s offer, the agency and the union must take their dispute to binding arbitration.

“This bill proposes a small change in the law, but it would mean a world of difference in our current contract negotiations by ensuring that the FAA once again engages in productive, good faith negotiations instead of relying on backdoor tactics to enforce its will,” said Carr, who pointed out that the FAA has already used the current law’s loophole once and imposed a contract on non-controller FAA employees that NATCA represents. “Good faith negotiations are the first step towards ensuring the continuing safety and efficiency of the U.S. air traffic system.”

NATCA believes the FAA is rushing to declare an impasse by creating artificial deadlines for completing talks and falsely stating that negotiators are not making progress. In fact, both sides have agreed on more than half of the proposed contract articles – just six months into the talks – and are making substantial progress on many others. Since the FAA declared the negotiations “stalled” last month, the sides have agreed on 31 contract articles (20 percent of the total). Yet this month, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey continued to impose an unrealistic timetable on negotiations, publicly stating that she expected the process to take “weeks,” not months. However, negotiations on the 1998 controller contract took well over a year to complete.

Carr also believes the FAA is trying to “beat the clock” by aiming to send its contract offer to Capitol Hill before the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, can deliver a key ruling on this issue. The three-judge panel could order a federal trial court to resolve the question of whether the Federal Service Impasses Panel has jurisdiction to get involved in any FAA/NATCA contract impasse, or it could rule outright that the FSIP does, in fact, have such jurisdiction.

In a letter sent to Blakey today, Carr called on the FAA to renounce misleading rhetoric and recommit to good faith negotiations. In a point-by-point rebuttal of the FAA’s inaccurate public statements, Carr said: “You have consistently maligned NATCA’s intentions and mischaracterized the nature of our negotiations. While this approach does a service to your political ambitions, it does not serve those you were appointed to represent and protect: the flying public, taxpayers or air traffic controllers.”

NATCA expects additional Senators to start signing on to this bill as early as today.

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