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United MEC Government Affairs Committee Update

Date: September 1, 2009
Source: Report

U.S. lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week, after spending several weeks at home for their summer District Work Period. During this summer recess, several Government Affairs Committee members (and AFA activists) met with members of Congress and attended Town Hall meetings. Throughout August, committee members and volunteers continued grassroots activities on our efforts to ban cell phones in-flight, set carry-on baggage standards and provide crewmembers with equal access to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).

Now back in session, both the House and the Senate will be focused on health care reform and passing numerous appropriations bills before adjourning the first session of the 111th Congress. Senate floor time will be at a premium so we will need to build our cosponsor list for FMLA very quickly. With less than two months remaining before an anticipated October 30 target adjournment date, we have our work cut out for us.

FAMILY and MEDICAL LEAVE ACT FAIRNESS

A top priority on AFA’s legislative agenda remains the Senate Airline Flight Crew Family and Medical Leave Act, S. 1422, which was introduced on July 9, 2009. As you know, one anonymous Republican Senator refused to allow our legislation to pass through a “unanimous consent” procedure. We now need to build our cosponsor list to show widespread, nonpartisan support for the legislation. Our Senators simply cannot just agree to support the bill when it comes up for a vote; we need a firm commitment from them to add their names to our cosponsor list.

While the Government Affairs Department and Government Affairs Committee Members continue to lobby Senate offices, we are being told that these offices need to hear from their constituents. DEAR AFA continues to get our message out with very good results.

We now need to redouble our efforts to reach out to our Local Council Members encouraging them to call their Senators. One of the most effective ways to do this is cell phone and script in hand – having Flight Attendants make their calls on the spot. I have included a sample phone script with this report.

HEALTH CARE REFORM

Health care reform has become one of the fiercest and most important discussions of our time. The current American health care system is unsustainable. The skyrocketing cost of health care burdens our families, impacts our negotiations, threatens our ability to compete in the global aviation arena and undermines America’s long-term fiscal stability. President Obama has said “Health care reform is not a luxury. It’s a necessity we cannot delay.”

As with any discussion this important, there has been no shortage of misinformation and complete falsehoods advanced by those opposed to reform efforts. At Congressional Town Hall meetings across the country obstructionists hoping to thwart health care reform have hijacked the health care reform debate. The public option which is the best way to cover all Americans, drive down costs and keep insurance companies honest, is under attack from special interest groups.

AFA supports health care reform that controls costs, creates a competitive health care market and ends abuses of the system by health insurance companies, expands access to quality health care with real choices and that protects what we have and does not tax our health care benefits. Earlier this year, AFA joined 30 other Unions in sending a letter to every member of the Senate urging them not to tax the benefits of employer provided health care.

There are numerous outlandish myths being fueled by the misleading and inflammatory remarks of those opposed to the President’s goals for health care reform. I have enclosed a line-by-line rebuttal to one of the more “notorious” e-mails being circulated. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has created a web site www.healthreform.gov with wide-ranging information about health care reform. In addition, the nonpartisan FactCheck.org dispels some of the misleading claims in the health care reform debate. If you receive any “backlash” from your Members who do not share AFA’s views on health care reform and need some assistance answering them, please let me know.

In its monthly survey, which evaluates consumer confidence in American health care, the independent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 80% of those surveyed have consistently said that they believe that health care reform is an important part of addressing the nation’s economic recovery. Survey results also found that over 51% of people are worried that they will not be able to pay for future health care needs in the event of a serious illness.

Before leaving for summer recess the U.S. House of Representatives introduced America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200, which protects current coverage, controls costs and creates shared responsibility among individuals, employers and government to ensure that all Americans have affordable coverage of essential health benefits. The legislation was crafted by the three House committees which have jurisdiction over health care. The bill has to be brought to the House floor for debate and a vote.

In the Senate both the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have jurisdiction over health care reform. The HELP Committee passed a bill that is similar to the House bill and the Senate Finance Committee is still working on their version of a bill. The two Senate bills will then be melded into one bill and brought to the Senate floor for debate and a vote. It is possible the Senate could break the bill into two parts, one part requiring 60 votes to pass, the other only 51 votes (under a budget procedure called reconciliation.)

Once a House and a Senate floor vote take place a Conference Committee will be named, made up of powerful members from both chambers of Congress, to reconcile any differences between their bills. But the Conference Committee might not simply merge the two bills, it could come up with new and substantially different legislation.

As we have learned from past failures, achieving comprehensive health care reform will not be easy. Today, health insurance companies and other special interests are fighting to kill the public option. They are resisting the funding and the regulations to assure insurance premiums are truly affordable. A majority of Republicans have made it clear they will not support any type of health care reform and some conservative Democrats are pushing for the weakest type of reform.

In a speech at a Cincinnati Labor Day rally, President Obama vowed for a renewed push for health care reform. Addressing a crowd of 5000 he said “We've been fighting for quality, affordable health care for every American for nearly a century-since Teddy Roosevelt. The Congress and the country have been engaged in a vigorous debate for many months, and debate is good, because we have to get this right. But in every debate, at some point comes to an end. There comes a time to decide, a time to act. ...It's time to act and get this thing done."

On Wednesday, September 9, President Obama will address a joint session of Congress trying to rally lawmakers to take action on health care reform. The President’s address was nationally televised.

FAA REAUTHORIZATION

As you know, AFA has been working to address a number of our legislative goals in the FAA Reauthorization legislation. The House version of FAA Reauthorization, H.R. 915, passed in the House by a vote of 277-136 on May 21. The bill included an in-flight cell phone ban, Flight Attendant fatigue study provisions, OSHA-like workplace safety and health protections, notification of pesticide application on flights, cabin air quality provisions, cabin temperature standards, HIMS program to include Flight Attendants, mandatory inspections of foreign repair stations, further definition of provisions restricting foreign control of US airlines and antitrust review of airline alliances.

The Senate version of FAA Reauthorization was approved by a voice vote in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on July 21. The legislation has not yet been placed on the Senate calendar for floor debate and vote. The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation contained several AFA backed provisions. These included expansion of the HIMS program to cover Flight Attendants, a requirement that Flight Attendants be proficient in English, alcohol awareness training for Flight Attendants and gate agents, a mandate that the FAA research and identify aircraft sensor and air cleaning technology, provisions for Flight Attendant fatigue research, and OSHA-like workplace safety and health protections for Flight Attendants.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) also has several proposals included in the FAA Reauthorization. These include improved runway safety measures, requirements for a final rule on pilot fatigue, improved runway safety measures, wake vortex mitigations and in-flight weather hazard detection systems, a study on fortified cockpit doors for all cargo-aircraft, and a prohibition on tail-end ferry flights as it relates to daily flight time/duty time limits.

The FAA has been operating under a series of congressionally approved extensions since September 2007, when the last FAA Reauthorization bill expired. The Senate was unable to conclude their work on FAA Reauthorization during the 110th Congress.

AIRLINE SAFETY and PILOT TRAINING

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved legislation which requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to update and strengthen the regulations on pre-employment screening pilot training and the sharing of information gathered from aviation safety programs. The legislation was introduced to address the issues that came forward during the “Regional Air Carriers and Pilot Workforce Issues” hearing the House Aviation Subcommittee held in response to the February 2009 Colgan Air crash.

The Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009, H.R. 3371, has bipartisan support and is a legislative priority for the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) said he expects the full House to take up the measure soon, possibly under suspension of the rules.

NATIONAL MEDIATION BOARD REPRESENTATIONAL ELECTIONS

The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) has written to the National Mediation Board (NMB) asking the NMB to amend its Representation Manual so NMB-conducted elections are carried out in a “fair and just manner.” Specifically, TTD is requesting a change to the absolute majority requirement, where 50% plus 1 of eligible voters must participate in the election. This peculiar NMB practice is not required under the Railway Labor Act nor is an absolute majority requirement necessary under National Labor Relations Act-conducted representational elections.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have reached an agreement on a 3-year contract that included pay increases. Members of NATCA are now voting to accept or reject the agreement. Air traffic controllers have been working under an imposed contract since 2006, when the FAA declared an impasse in contract talks and imposed pay cuts and new work rules.

FLIGHTPAC

The continued support of our Membership, through participating in our grassroots campaigns and supporting FlightPAC, is essential in ensuring our voice is heard in Washington. FlightPAC is the best tool we have to elect and re-elect members of Congress who will stand up and fight for our issues.

Printed from the official United Master Executive Council website at www.unitedafa.org.

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