FAA reauthorization should fly through in June, says lawmaker

Some controversial items in House bill include language making it easier for FedEx workers to unionize.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., predicted Wednesday that a multiyear FAA authorization bill will be signed into law by July 4.

"I think we've made enough progress and we ought to be able to get it done by then," he said. "We are working toward that goal. We'll get there, we'll do it."

House and Senate aides are informally meeting to clear out the underbrush in a bicameral deal, but discussions have not yet started on the contentious items. This includes House language making it easier for FedEx workers to unionize, which Oberstar strongly backs.

FedEx President Fred Smith recently said this dispute was holding up the conference talks.

"There is no delay; don't buy the Fred Smith garbage," Oberstar said.

He also accused Smith of having "bought his way" to securing federal affirmation in 1996 that employees at FedEx Express are correctly regulated under the Railroad Labor Act. "I'm being a little harsh on Mr. Smith, but he's been a little harsh on me," Oberstar said. He clarified, "He worked his way around the Senate very effectively and the Clinton White House as well."

Pro-labor Democrats and main FedEx rival UPS have argued that FedEx -- while initially an airline -- has become predominately a ground carrier and trucking operation subject to the National Labor Relations Act. The labor law allows employees to unionize in localized groups without the need for government mediation, while RLA requires unionization across nationwide classes of employees and a mandatory government-led mediation of contract disputes before a union can strike or an employer can replace an employee or impose terms of a contract.

When asked about Oberstar's comments, FedEx spokesman Maury Lane mainly took the high road.

"Chairman Oberstar could get a better understanding of Mr. Smith's concerns if he held a congressional hearing or took public input on the impact of this UPS bailout legislation," Lane said. "Until then, it would be fruitless to discuss much more on this issue, particularly since UPS has been trying to put itself under the RLA since its airline was created -- a fact Chairman Oberstar constantly ignores or fails to acknowledge."