When Republican House leaders forced a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week, they not only forced the layoff of 4,000 FAA workers, they also put at risk nearly 90,000 construction jobs at airports around the country.
FAA funding expired after midnight Friday because Republicans blocked temporary funding in an effort to overturn a new rule making union elections among rail and airline workers more democratic.
With a long-term FAA funding bill stalled, Congress could have passed temporary spending authority, as it has 20 times in the past without controversy. But like their tactics on debt ceiling negotiations, Republicans are demanding their way at any cost.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called on Republicans “to stop playing ideological games” and to:
get down to the serious business of creating jobs, instead of laying off FAA aviation experts and tens of thousands of construction workers, who are already experiencing close to 20 percent unemployment rates nationally. Adding insult to injury, just as the government reaches its debt limit, this disruption of the FAA means that aviation taxes—totaling up to $200 million a week—that normally fund our aviation infrastructure may instead end up in the airlines’ pockets.
Says AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Edward Wytkind:
Here we go again. House Republican leaders are playing political games at the expense of vital services and thousands of good jobs….Unfortunately in this game there are no winners. Republican leaders are holding hostage a simple funding extension of vital air safety programs, forcing furloughs on 4,000 FAA employees, jeopardizing thousands of construction jobs as airport projects are at risk and even sticking it to rural America by threatening their air service.
The FAA partial shutdown means no one is collecting the tax on airline tickets, costing the federal government $200 million a week.
It also means airport improvement construction jobs will be lost in every state and FAA aviation experts furloughed in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In Florida, for example, a total of 3,088 jobs are shut down or at risk, in Illinois it’s 3,286 and in Ohio it’s 1,358.
The laid off FAA workers include engineers, scientists, research analysts, administrative assistants, computer specialists, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists and community planners.
Says AFSCME President Gerald McEntee:
FAA employees should not have their livelihoods jeopardized because a few politicians want to play political games. The FAA employees we represent are hardworking public servants who are committed to maintaining what is undeniably the most efficient aviation system in the world. Congress should pass a short-term extension at once and recommit themselves to passing a long-term bill that does not take away the rights of working men and women.
The union election rule in question, adopted last year by the National Mediation Board (NMB), says air and rail union elections should be decided by a majority of votes cast. Previously, each worker who did not cast a vote in an air or rail representation election was automatically counted as a “No” vote. If the old rule were applied to Congress, not a single sitting member would have been elected.
Larry Cohen, Communications Workers of America (CWA) president, says:
It’s a sad day when extremists would rather shut down the FAA and force the layoff of thousands of workers than allow airline workers to vote in a union election under the same standards used in every other American election.
This blog originally appeared in Afl-CioNow Blog on July 25, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.