The House of Representatives Tuesday voted to extend until Aug. 1 funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), leaving unresolved a controversial provision that, if enacted, would reclassify the operations of FedEx Corp.'s air unit under a different labor law.
The House version of the FAA funding bill would require all employees of FedEx Express, except for pilots and aircraft mechanics, to be governed under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the statute that covers virtually all industries, including trucking. Currently, the unit's employees are covered under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which governs workers in the airline and railroad industries.
The Senate version of the legislation does not include the provision. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, where the bill originated, has said he doesn't have enough votes to pass the FAA funding bill with the FedEx labor provision in it.
It had been hoped that both chambers could produce by July 4 a reconciled bill that could reach President Obama's desk for signature. The FAA has been operating under a series of short-term funding measures for nearly three years.
The RLA allows for government intervention to end strikes and requires a company to be organized as one national bargaining unit instead of being organized terminal by terminal. By contrast, the NLRA permits workers to locally organize and does not compel the federal government to intervene to stop a job action.
It is believed that the FedEx unit—which is non-union except for its 4,500 pilots—would be easier to organize if it were reclassified under the NLRA. FedEx Chairman Frederick W. Smith bitterly opposes the provision and has threatened to withdraw a multibillion dollar order for new Boeing freighters should it become law.
Arch-rival UPS Inc., by contrast, backs the provision, saying it would create a level playing field between the companies. The Teamsters union, which has long coveted a foothold inside FedEx, supports it as well.
In a statement, FedEx laid the blame for the delay on Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Oberstar introduced the provision and continues to support its inclusion in any final FAA funding bill.
In the statement, FedEx said Oberstar "has once again allowed special-interest provisions benefiting UPS and labor to block legislation that funds the FAA and makes air travel safer. The U.S. Senate made it clear months ago that it is ready to act in the nation's interests. But the House, following the direction of Rep. Oberstar, continues to turn a deaf ear to public pleas for safer air travel."
FedEx spokesman Maury Lane said it's "incomprehensible" that the legislation is still being stalled in the House, noting that Oberstar is exerting his influence to almost single-handedly prevent the majority in the House from voting to pass the FAA funding bill without the provision.
Lane, who worked on Capitol Hill before joining FedEx, said there are no formal negotiations under way between House and Senate lawmakers, saying that any dialogue is currently between House and Senate staffers.
"No one knows what's going to happen after Aug. 1," Lane said.