The House of Representatives voted unanimously Thursday to extend until March 31 programs funding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), making it the 16th time in three years that the current law has been extended.
The House action, which punts action on the FAA's funding programs to the 112th Congress, also keeps alive language in the House version that would require FedEx Corp.'s air express operations to be governed under a different labor law. The current extension is set to expire on Dec. 30. The FAA has existed on multiple funding extensions since 2007.
The language would put all employees of FedEx Express, except for pilots and mechanics, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) instead of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which currently governs the unit's labor relations. The NLRA is considered an easier path to unionization because it permits organizing on a local basis. By contrast, the RLA allows a company to be organized only as one nationwide bargaining unit.
Frederick W. Smith, FedEx's chairman and CEO, bitterly opposes the measure. Smith, whose animus toward organized labor goes back decades, has threatened to cancel orders for up to 30 Boeing 777 freighters if the measure passes.
FedEx's chief rival, UPS Inc., supports the change, saying that it will create a level playing field between the two companies and that the unit's workers—except for pilots and mechanics—operate ground-handling services and should be governed by the NLRA, which covers operations in the trucking industry. UPS's operations are governed by the NLRA.
In a statement, FedEx spokesman Maury Lane said that "we hope the new Congress will act quickly to develop and pass a new bill, without the anti-competitive bailout provision that benefits only UPS, and has nothing to do with the bill's main purpose. It was clear from the election that voters are tired of backroom deals that put corporate interests ahead of the public good."
The Senate, whose version does not include the controversial FedEx provision, has been trying to pass a bill by the end of the current lame-duck session that would have appropriated $17.1 billion to fund the FAA for its 2011 fiscal year.
It was thought that the House would drop the FedEx language from its version because the measure's principal supporter, James L. Oberstar, lost his bid for re-election in the November mid-year elections.