Aviation bill clears House despite veto threat

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The House of Representatives approved sweeping aviation legislation on Friday despite a White House threat to veto the measure over a labor provision favorable to airline management.

The chamber voted 223-196 to approve the bill, which also cuts $4 billion from the proposed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) budget — a reduction that the agency said could disrupt its air traffic operations.

“The federal government can do more with less, and this bill does so by requiring the FAA to identify savings in a manner that does not negatively impact aviation safety,” said John Mica, author of the legislation as chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

The bill lays out long-term government aviation priorities and funding formulas for FAA operations. It also includes resources for the FAA’s next steps in modernizing the air traffic system from radar to a network of satellites.

The House bill would have to be reconciled with similar legislation approved by the U.S. Senate.

Negotiations are expected to be difficult enough, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats in charge in the Senate. But these talks, congressional and other insiders say, will be harder because of a disputed labor proposal.

The Republican-led bill seeks to restore a rule that was changed last year, and airline and railroad unions say the rule would make it harder for them to organize.

The proposal would require unions to count non-votes in union organizing elections as “no” votes. Currently, victory goes to a majority of those voting, meaning unions need fewer people to win an election.

Major U.S. airlines are heavily unionized. But unions have failed in recent months to organize thousands of flight attendants and other workers at mainly nonunion Delta Air Lines Inc. New attempts are anticipated.

Labor would also like to organize workers at JetBlue Airways Corp.

In a statement this week threatening to veto the bill, the White House said the current rule provides a “fair and free process.”

Labor is a key constituent of President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

(Reporting by John Crawley, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

Aviation bill clears House despite veto threat