FAA, air traffic controllers to reopen talks

In a first step toward ending a long-running contract dispute, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has appointed former Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey to oversee a team of mediators who will seek to broker a labor agreement between the agency and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

"Jane is a terrific public servant with a great deal of expertise when it comes to aviation, and we are fortunate that she is willing to take on this challenge," LaHood said in a speech to the Aero and Wings Club in Washington on Thursday. "I'm fully aware that air traffic controllers do an extraordinary and essential job on behalf of the flying public. They don't always get a lot of credit for their work."

The controllers union and FAA have been at an impasse since 2006, when negotiations over a new labor agreement to replace the expiring one negotiated by Garvey broke down. Later that year, FAA's then-administrator, Marion Blakey, imposed pay and work rules on the controllers, relying on authority included in the 1996 reauthorization of FAA, which allows the agency to implement its final contract offer if it cannot reach agreement with the union on contract terms.

The move sparked protests by the controllers and a legislative scramble. NATCA allies in the House and Senate, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, introduced measures that would have required the agency to return to the bargaining table, and removed the administrator's ability to impose contract terms on employees. But disagreements between the House and the Senate about changes to FAA's funding structure have delayed a resolution of the dispute.

Garvey will oversee two mediators who will be responsible for helping the agency and the union negotiate a contract, which must be ratified by NATCA members.

The union's president, Patrick Forrey, praised LaHood, a Republican, for his choice of Garvey and for reopening the negotiations.

"With this bold step, President Obama is fulfilling his commitment to the safety and modernization of the air traffic control system and to the dedicated men and women safety professionals who run the system each day," Forrey said.

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