February 16, 2011

Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Costello Statement on FAA Reauthorization Bill

Washington, D.C.  – The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure today approved by a vote of 34-25 a controversial four-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authored by Republicans and introduced just five days ago.

Below is the opening statement of U.S. Representative Jerry F. Costello (D-IL), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation, as prepared for delivery:

FEBRUARY 16, 2011

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling today’s markup on H.R. 658, “FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011.”

I appreciate the sense of urgency to pass legislation to get the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorized.  Last week, Administrator Babbitt testified before the Aviation Subcommittee and stated what we all know -- that the FAA and the aviation community need the stability and direction that a multi-year authorization would provide.

I also appreciate that you have included some provisions in this bill that were in the legislation we passed in the House in 2007 and in 2009, some of which reflect my own priorities, including binding arbitration in the collective bargaining process.

However, there are some troubling omissions from the bills we passed in 2007, 2009 and 2010.  There are newly added provisions that are also troubling, as well as a poison pill provision that we strongly oppose.

First, as I stated last week, I agree that we must make every effort to be fiscally responsible and to cut federal spending where it makes sense, given the size of the deficit.  However, we also have a responsibility to the American public to keep our aviation system safe and secure, make needed improvements to our infrastructure, strengthen the economy, create jobs, and remain competitive.  The spending cuts proposed in the bill before us, some of them going back before 2008 levels I believe present a threat to the safety of the flying public.

In addition to hearing from Administrator Babbitt on FAA reauthorization, the Aviation Subcommittee also held a hearing to listen to industry stakeholders.  The unified message from the industry was loud and clear:   Congress cannot roll back FAA funding to 2008 levels without harming safety programs or hampering the industry.  President Bush’s former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has stated, and I quote, “The prospect is really devastating to jobs and to our future, if we really have to roll back [to 2008 levels] and stop NextGen in its tracks.”

FAA officials also indicate that cutting the agency’s budget to 2008 levels would trigger “drastic cutbacks and cancellations” of core NextGen programs and could require the agency to furlough hundreds of safety-related employees.  Moreover, we have tens of billions of dollars in airport infrastructure needs and growing construction costs.  Yet H.R. 658 would cut AIP funding even lower than 2008 funding levels.

Mr. Chairman, the bill before us contains what I consider to be a poison pill that was added without our knowledge or any discussion.  The National Mediation Board has a rule that sets out union election procedures in the airline and rail industry to make those procedures fair and consistent with how democratic elections are held.  Under this rule, the mediation board will certify a union as the representative of airline or railroad workers if a majority of ballots cast were in favor of the union.  Simply put, the majority rules – the ballots are counted and whoever wins, wins.

This bill would change the procedure and would require that any eligible worker not voting in an election, for whatever reason, would be counted as a “no” vote.  As an example, if there were 100 people eligible to vote for or against joining a union, and 10 or 15 of the 100 did not cast a vote because they were sick or in the hospital – or for any other reason – even though they did not cast a ballot, they would be counted as a “no” vote in the election.  H.R. 658 would repeal the mediation board’s rule and impose this outrageous procedure that is intended to make it as difficult as possible for workers to join a union.  Imagine if we had to count every registered voter who did not vote in the past election in our congressional districts as a “no” vote.  How many questions of public policy on the election ballot would pass if every registered voter who did not vote in the election would be counted as a “no” vote on the referendum or a question of public policy.

If we are serious about passing a long-term FAA bill, this provision must come out.

H.R. 658 also omits a number of important provisions, some of them safety-related, which were included in both last year’s House FAA reauthorization bill and the Senate FAA reauthorization bill that passed 93 to 0.  For example, provisions to provide for long-overdue occupational safety and health standards for flight attendants were included in both bills.  According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, flight attendants work in one of the most hazardous workplaces of any in this country.  The occurrence of workplace injury and illness among air transportation workers is more than twice the national average.  Therefore, we will offer an amendment to ensure that flight attendants have adequate health and safety protections.

As I stated last week, the Co-Chairs of the “Deficit Commission” noted that during the last Republican Congress, Federal government outsourcing ballooned, contributing to the budget deficit.  The Commission recommended that government reduce the number of non-defense contractors, yet H.R. 658 is going in the opposite direction.

For example, the bill legislates business opportunities with FAA for private “third-party” flight procedure designers, without any regard to whether or not this is a cost-effective approach.

Mr. Chairman, I will again say as I’ve said many times before, I will work with you to produce a fair bill that can not only pass the House, but also pass the Senate and be signed by the President.  This bill with these troubling provisions will not pass the Senate or be signed into law by the President in its current form; therefore, I hope you will consider making changes to the bill when we get to the floor.