U.S. Capitol Building; Capitol Building; Washington D.C. WASHINGTON — In the face of bipartisan get-tough-with-labor legislation introduced in the House and Senate, two of the remaining unions without national rail contracts agreed to a tentative settlement Dec. 1, and a third reached agreement with the carriers Dec. 1 to extend a cooling-off period into February.

With these agreements, the threat of a national railroad strike has been averted for now.

Previously, the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the various shopcrafts, including the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, reached tentative six-year agreements with the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC). The NCCC represents BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Soo Line, Union Pacific and numerous smaller railroads in national handling.

UTU members earlier ratified a five-year national rail contract.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the American Train Dispatchers Association agreed Dec. 1 to a tentative six-year agreement as recommended last month by Presidential Emergency Board No. 243. References to the UTU’s ratified national rail contract are extensive in the PEB recommendations.

While the BLET is in national handling for health care, it previously reached ratified wage agreements with BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern for lower wage increases than the UTU and other organizations, and continues separate talks on wages with Union Pacific.

Also, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes reached agreement with the NCCC to extend into February a cooling-off period that was to expire Dec. 5.

The BLET and train dispatchers’ tentative agreements, and the cooling-off period extension agreed to by the BMWE Dec. 1, came in the face of separate House and Senate resolutions.

The House resolution, H.J. 91 and introduced by House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), would have imposed as a final agreement on the BLET, the train dispatchers and the BMWE the PEB recommendations.

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was set to introduce for immediate Senate vote an identical resolution (S.J. 31). After the BLET, train dispatchers’ and BMWE agreements were announced late Dec. 1, Sen. Reid said:

“I applaud all the stakeholders who worked to avert a work stoppage that would have hurt our nation’s economy just as the holiday season gets underway. It is Congress’ constitutional duty to ensure the unfettered flow of interstate commerce, and to protect the nation’s economic well-being. I am pleased with this outcome and congratulate all sides, including the White House and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for their effort to find common ground that protects our economy and keeps it on-track.”

propeller; airplane propeller WASHINGTON – For more than four years, Congress has attempted, unsuccessfully, to pass a long-term commercial aviation funding bill to modernize airports and the national’s air traffic control system.

Two sticking points this year in reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are an extension of the $200 million Essential Air Service program and a National Mediation Board ruling affecting representation votes under the Railway Labor Act.

The Essential Air Service program — which subsidizes commercial air service to some 150 rural communities that, otherwise, would lose their air service because it is unprofitable — is provided primarily by regional airlines that employ UTU-represented pilots and flight attendants.

The NMB rule-change scrapped a 75-year curiousity of counting those who chose not to vote as having voted “no” for union representation. The new rule comported with every other democratic election — whether it be for the local PTA or for members of Congres — counting only those ballots actually cast in determining whether employees wish to be represented by a labor union.

However, conservative Republican leaders, such as House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), want to scrap subsidies that assure air service to rural areas and overturn, through legislation, the NMB ruling.

While the Republican-controlled House of Representatives remains opposed to the Essential Air Service subsidies and the modernization of the rep-vote rule by the NMB, the Democratic-controlled Senate has pushed back. With no agreement, lawmakers have passed a series of short-term funding extensions that keep the nation’s commercial aviation network running while they continue to lock horns over the subsidy and vote-rule issue. As a result, long-term funding for airport and safety improvements is in liimbo.

The latest of 22 short-term extensions expires Jan. 31, and Mica is threatening to allow another partial shutdown of the system as occurred earlier this year when the House and Senate failed to agree, for a few days, on even another short-term extension.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) remain committeed to not sacrificing the Essential Air Service program or allowing a congressional rollback of the NMB rule. President Obama has promised to veto any bill that does not preserve the Essential Air program and leave untouched the NMB ruling.

This congressional battle, as with so many other issues before Congress, has become, from Greek mythology, a Sisyphean struggle – a reference to King Sisyphus punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and having to repeat this through eternity. 

WASHINGTON – The Republican chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica of Florida, added to his anti-labor reputation July 19 by inserting language in an aviation bill aimed at pressuring Senate Democrats to overturn a National Mediation Board decision allowing more democratic representation elections among airline and rail workers.

Not to be lost here is that were the UTU tentative national rail agreement rejected, and the outcome turned over to third parties, Mica would take the lead in deciding the outcome – and it is likely he would push for a congressionally imposed settlement quite unfavorable to workers.

Mica’s latest assault on labor is in the form of legislative language to halt essential air service subsidies to states of three labor-friendly Senate Democrats — Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Rockefeller told the Associated Press that the Mica action was in retaliation for Senate Democrats refusing to accept an anti-labor provision in a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill.

Mica, who is pushing to eliminate Amtrak, slash transit funding and prevent Transportation Security Administration workers from joining a union, has been on a tear to overturn an NMB ruling that brings airline and railroad representation elections in tune with all other democratic elections.

The NMB last year ended a 75-year practice that counted those not voting in rep elections as having voted against union representation. Instead, rep elections are now determined by a majority those actually voting.

No other democratic elections count those not voting as having cast negative ballots. The NMB merely brought airline and railroad rep elections under the same rules affecting all other elections in America. Indeed, if congressional elections followed the old NMB procedure, which Mica wishes to restore, many House and Senate lawmakers would not have been elected.

Mica is piqued that the changed NMB rep-election rule could make it easier for unions to organize airline and railroad workers.

Although the Republican controlled House voted to overturn the new NMB rep-election rule as part of a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Senate has refused to go along.

The result has been a stalemate and a series of extensions to keep the FAA operating. In the latest extension effort, Mica inserted language eliminating essential air service to the states of the Reid, Rockefeller and Baucus, who are among the most staunch opponents of overturning the NMB ruling through legislation.

It is a game of chicken, because if the latest extension is not passed, thousands of FAA employees would be furloughed, although the nation’s air traffic control system would continue operating. The Senate has showed no sign of capitulating to Mica.