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Bipartisan Senate Bill Calls on FAA To Restore Fairness in Its Contract Negotiations Process - (8/6/2008)

CONTACT:  Alexandra Caldwell, NATCA, 202-220-9813 (O), 202-997-7741 (C), acaldwell@natcadc.org;  Kori Blalock Keller, PASS, 202-293-7277, kbkeller@passnational.org

WASHINGTON – Senators Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., recognizing the need to correct what Inhofe described as a “very unfair process imposed upon employees of the Federal Aviation Administration,” have introduced bipartisan legislation that would ensure good faith collective bargaining for FAA employees and provide for an impartial impasse resolution process. Additionally, the bill would restart contract talks between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, with the process going to binding arbitration if negotiations are not successful at reaching agreement.

The bill, S.3416, “The Federal Aviation Administration Employee Retention Act,” would restore fairness to the collective bargaining process for NATCA, the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) and other FAA employee unions. The legislation seeks to protect federal employees’ collective bargaining rights in two important ways: first, by requiring either binding arbitration by a panel of arbitrators selected by both parties or allowing both parties, by mutual agreement, to adopt their own procedures for resolving collective bargaining disputes, ending an ongoing cycle of litigation over the correct procedure to resolve impasses under the current law; and second, making null and void any changes to work rules made by the FAA administrator without union agreement or employee ratification on or after July 10, 2005.

Said NATCA President Patrick Forrey: “Our aviation system is in disarray.  The FAA's unilateral imposition of work and pay rules has forced our veteran air traffic controllers into retiring earlier than they had planned, depleting the human infrastructure that once made the U.S. aviation system the envy of the world. The flying public is paying the price for the FAA’s mismanagement with record breaking delays, and we are concerned with the growing number of runway incursions and near mid-air collisions happening in the system. Passage of this bill will provide the incentive for controllers to remain on the boards so that the safety of the flying public can be restored."

The effects of the FAA’s imposed work and pay rules on air traffic controllers 700 days ago have been devastating. Total attrition has eclipsed more than one-fifth of the workforce and the rate of controllers retiring in their first year of eligibility doubled. Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III has cited the agency's hostile relations with the controllers union as the reason pushing 25 percent more veteran controllers to leave since 2004 than the FAA had anticipated. Additionally, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified in June that the FAA projects 14 percent of its new hires will leave this fiscal year. That is double the 2006 rate and well above the nine percent who left last year, GAO said.

The financial impact of delays in 2007 caused by the FAA's mismanagement of our aviation system, according to the Joint Economic Committee, was $41 billion, with 320 million hours lost in wasted time. The Travel Industry Association claims that the U.S. economy lost $26 billion last year because irritated travelers are increasingly choosing to forgo air travel altogether, while tens of thousands of jobs that depend on a vibrant aviation system have been lost.

Meanwhile, contract negotiations in all of PASS’s bargaining units have been unsuccessful, resulting in impasses and lengthy litigation.

“This legislation will ensure that future negotiations are conducted in good faith and that impasses are resolved in a fair and impartial manner,” said Tom Brantley, president of the PASS, which represents five bargaining units within the FAA including technicians and aviation safety inspectors. “PASS is encouraged that lawmakers continue to recognize the need for fairness in collective bargaining and are grateful to Sens. Lautenberg and Inhofe for their efforts in resolving this broken process.”

"As a pilot I am well acquainted with the exceptional work done by the employees of the FAA and I know first hand that our aviation system is only is as good as these employees," Senator Inhofe said shortly after the measure was introduced in the Senate. "They deserve the right to bargain in good faith on their employment contracts. This bill will give them that opportunity."

Said Senator Lautenberg: “The Bush Administration’s disregard of FAA workers’ rights has put the safety of our aviation system at risk. The Administration’s heavy-handed tactics have forced experienced air traffic controllers out the door in record numbers. It’s time we treat these workers with the respect they deserve. By giving all FAA employees fair labor rights, we can recruit and retain the number of safety professionals our air travel system needs to run smoothly and safely.” 


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