Obama threatens veto of FAA bill over labor provision

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:04pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama would veto sweeping aviation legislation if Republicans in Congress succeed in gutting a rule favorable to airline and railroad union organizing, the White House said on Wednesday.

"The administration is committed to help working Americans exercise their right to organize under a fair and free process," the White House said in a statement on the multi-billion-dollar bill that lays out long term U.S. aviation priorities.

The centerpiece of the legislation would authorize funding of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control operations and modernization of that system.

It is under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The chamber is expected to vote this week on an amendment to remove a provision in the bill eliminating an existing rule that makes it easier for unions in the airline and railroad industries to organize.

The National Mediation Board (NMB) last year upended long-standing policy that treated non-votes in union organizing elections as 'no' votes. Victory is now awarded to a majority of only those voting.

The change aligned representation elections at freight railroads and airlines -- covered under the same federal labor law -- with balloting guidelines in most other industries.

Labor and airlines have been lobbying hard for their respective positions ahead of the vote in the Republican-led House, which is expected to be very close.

Hoping to influence the outcome, Obama's aides said they would recommended a veto if the chamber votes to change the rule.

"The fairest and most effective way to determine the outcome of a union representation election is by the majority of votes cast," the White House statement said.

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 non-union Delta Air Lines. New attempts are anticipated.

Labor would also like to organize workers at JetBlue Airways.

FAA legislation already approved in the Senate did not include the contentious labor provision. If it passes the House, the outcome would be determined by congressional negotiators from both chambers who would craft a final bill.

(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Gary Hill and Carol Bishopric)

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