Published 16 Jul, 2016
Earlier today, President Obama signed an FAA extension bill that will lock in current FAA funding levels for 14 months, until September 30, 2017.
TWU opposed passage because it included a provision that has the potential to cost some of our members their jobs. In response to recent terrorist attacks on European airports, this measure includes language that increases scrutiny of aviation workers. Specifically, the law instructs the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to update Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) badges and extend the background check lookback period from the current 10 years to 15. There is no credible evidence pointing to an insider terrorist threat at U.S. airports and TWU argued strongly against this provision.
TWU members in the aviation industry are on the front lines of transportation safety. We face these risks every day. We advocate for policies that improve transportation security. However, we reject the notion that all transportation workers represent a security risk unless proven otherwise. We believe that disqualifying criminal offenses should be limited to those that reasonably make someone a security risk. This provision is unwarranted, targets loyal, hard-working TWU members and may put jobs at risk.
But there is also welcome news for SIDA badge holders. The FAA extension provides significant and long sought after appeal and waiver rights. That means that workers who have their SIDA badge revoked can now appeal the decision. These same waiver and appeals rights are currently provided to longshore and maritime workers and they protected many jobs. TWU and the labor movement have advocated for these rights for over a decade.
The FAA extension also strengthens rules for foreign aircraft repair stations by requiring background checks for each employee who performs safety sensitive work at those stations. If implemented properly, this will finally start to level the playing field between U.S. and foreign repair stations. TWU strongly supported this language. In addition, the FAA has one year to issue rules on drug and alcohol testing for employees at foreign aircraft repair stations. These rules are long overdue, and this provides extra time for the agency to carry this out. However, it also means that the when the FAA bill comes up again in 14 months, there will be high expectations that these regulations will have already been released.
The FAA must also increase risk-based oversight of foreign repair stations with a history of violations, meaning the worst offenders will get special attention from U.S. government inspectors. Again, TWU supported this important action.
There was a lot of pressure on Congress to push through an FAA extension. It was considered “must pass” legislation, since the government’s legal authority to pay FAA expenses, including salaries, was set to expire on July 15. Failure to pass the law would have forced the FAA to partially close and air traffic controllers would have had to work without pay.
TWU is disappointed by the expansion of background checks, but we are strongly supportive of appeals rights for SIDA badge holders and expansion of federal oversight over foreign aircraft repair stations.