At least 639 FAA workers are furloughed in Egg Harbor Township at the William J. Hughes Technical Center as Congressional authorization for several FAA programs expired at 12:01 a.m. on July 23. Nationwide, almost 4,000 FAA workers will have to take an un-paid leave from work because Congress can’t get their act together to re-authorize these programs. This marks the first time in American history that the FAA was shut down.
Because the authorization expired, the FAA will no longer be able to collect a tax on airline tickets which funds these programs. The agency will lose an estimated $30 million a day in taxes. A full list of these suspended programs include many airport improvement and construction projects. According to the Association of Flight Attendants, another 90,000 private sector workers could be laid off as these programs are halted. To make matters worse, most airlines are still charging the same rates for tickets and pocketing the $30 million a day for themselves. Delta, JetBlue, United, Continental and US Airways actually raised their ticket prices to make up for the missing tax.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican, said that this standoff, costing $200 million a week, amounts to “real money to the Treasury.” He says, “for people who really care about debt and deficit, pass a clean bill. Let’s get back on track, let’s get our workers back to work, let’s get construction projects going again, and let’s start collecting the tax that goes into the federal Treasury.”
A clean extension of the FAA was passed by Congress 20 times over the past four years, so then why is there a problem now?
According to Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), “The House Republicans freely admit that this is simply an effort to leverage one issue to hijack the legislative process and gain the upper hand on negotiating an anti-labor provision.” Corporate lobbyists from Delta Airlines are trying to change a National Mediation Board decision from last year that provided workers a democratic vote on union certification, making it more difficult for workers to join a union.
Some House Republicans are dressing up their union busting by saying that now would be a good time to cut some communities out of the Essential Air Service Program, which was enacted to ensure small communities would have a minimum air service that would otherwise not be profitable. By linking to the nation’s air transportation network, these smaller communities are able to compete with larger, more urban areas in the United States and around the world for jobs and economic development. But since the EAS is funded by the airline ticket tax, and does not add to the deficit or nation debt, it seems obvious that the change in the bill is more about union busting than it is about cutting to save money.
New Jersey State Senator Jim Whelan wrote a letter urging the New Jersey Congressional Delegation to “work together and resolve this as quickly as possible.” After Jim Whelan supported the New Jersey Healthcare and Pension Reform Bill, essentially stripping away the rights of state workers to collectively bargain for their healthcare and pension, I’m surprised he is not supporting this language proposed by Delta to further hurt unions.
Atlantic County already has the second highest unemployment rate in all of New Jersey (12.9%). The layoffs that come because of these political games are only going to make matters worse, and now 639 additional local families will have to survive without a paycheck. I’m sure these families don’t care about these political games, or the corporate lobbyist – they just want to get back to work.