House to vote on bill reviving FAA-union negotiations

Legislation would need approval of two-thirds of members to pass.

House GOP leaders will bring to the floor next week legislation requiring the Federal Aviation Administration and the air traffic controllers union to revive contract talks, Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, said Tuesday.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed to bring up under suspension of the rules a bill introduced last week by LaTourette and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., that would stop the FAA from implementing its latest contract offer to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, LaTourette told CongressDaily.

Under current law, that contract offer, which FAA sent to Congress April 5, would go into effect if Congress does not act within 60 days. "We take the clock off it," LaTourette said. "It just leaves them where we found them."

He has the support of NATCA. "It's the outcome that we're looking for," said Ruth Marlin, executive vice president of NATCA.

The bill would need to receive two-thirds support to pass under suspension of the rules, which LaTourette noted would be the same support needed if President Bush were to veto the measure.

"We might as well get it now," he said. Talks between the FAA and union officials aimed at updating an existing 1998 agreement ended without resolution when the FAA submitted its latest offer to Congress.

Unlike a bipartisan bill offered by Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., and Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee ranking member Jerry Costello, D-Ill., the LaTourette-LoBiondo bill does not require the FAA and the union to go to binding arbitration but merely requires them to renew the contract discussions by blocking the FAA from implementing its contract offer.

Costello's and Kelly's bill has 265 co-sponsors -- including 75 Republicans. Most Republicans oppose congressional intervention, and GOP leaders apparently have settled on the version sponsored by two labor-friendly Republicans.

A spokesman for Boehner on Tuesday said he "expects to bring something to the floor next week that could be considered on the suspension calendar." No decision has been made regarding the language of the legislation, the spokesman said.

Union officials argue that under the FAA's latest contract proposal, new controllers would receive less pay and veterans at the upper end of the pay scale would not receive another raise before mandatory retirement at age 56. New controllers would make up to $127,000 in salary and benefits in the first five years, according to FAA. Marlin though said the average salary for new controllers could be as high as $92,166 but probably would be between $64,000 and $69,000 by the fifth year.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last Thursday that he supports the FAA's position because he said a tight federal budget is focused on "fewer personnel and better technology" instead of giving hefty raises to controllers. "We're just trying to keep these increases limited," he said.

The average compensation and benefits package for the 14,575 air traffic controllers would go from $165,900 to $187,000 under the FAA's offer. "These guys are making a lot of money," an FAA spokesman said. "This notion that we're cutting pay or freezing pay even at the high end ... doesn't hold water."

Controller salaries and benefits have gone up 75 percent since 1998 and overall went from $1.4 billion to $2.4 billion from 1998 to 2005, according to the FAA. "They are taking a huge chunk of our budget," the FAA spokesman said.