(Updates throughout with additional reporting.)
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Addressing staff shortages at air traffic control facilities and stopping airlines from misusing visa programs are among the top priorities for transportation unions next year.
The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO brought together 37 unions on Thursday, including the Air Line Pilots Association and Transport Workers Union, to vote on an agenda of advocacy goals for 2023 for aviation, transit, maritime, rail, and other transport workers. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh also spoke to the unions and answered questions about their priorities at the closed meeting.
The unions want Congress to ensure the Federal Aviation Administration has the resources needed for air traffic controllers and to pass legislation to help restore rail workers’ sickness and unemployment benefits.
The groups also are urging the Transportation Department to attach US-made requirements to all federal spending from last year’s infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58). Those requirements have been delayed by some agencies to give grant recipients time to transition from foreign sources.
The agenda “highlights that we have a very busy couple of years ahead of us,” TTD President Greg Regan said after the meeting. “Our agenda is not limited to what we adopted today; those are just ones that provide a benchmark.”
The Biden administration has taken a largely pro-union stance, but Republican control in one or both chambers of Congress could make it harder to advance union demands. Lawmakers will likely weigh the workers’ priorities as they work on legislation to reauthorize the FAA before a Sept. 30, 2023, deadline.
Post-pandemic air travel disruption could influence Congress’ reauthorization focus. Airlines are largely the cause of recent disruption in the skies, but the pandemic also intensified staffing challenges for the FAA.
There are 1,000 fewer air traffic controllers now than a decade ago, and more than 10% are eligible to retire. Unions say that has led to some controllers working six days per week. Their agenda calls for the FAA to better assess its air traffic controller needs and hire 200 additional technical operations employees.
“Severe staffing shortages within Technical Operations must be resolved by the FAA before something dire happens when needed equipment fails and there aren’t enough technicians available to fix it,” a policy statement from the union said.
Dave Spero, national president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, said he was pleased the push for more technical operations staff was included in the agenda. His group has been speaking with members of Congress and agency officials about how the staffing level is “getting to become a crisis.” Technical operations employees work to maintain navigation and communication and radar technology for pilots and controllers.
The worker groups are also raising concerns about airlines misusing visa programs to fill pilot positions “by employing foreign nationals, displacing qualified prospective U.S. pilots, and undercutting U.S. pilot pay,” a policy statement said. The unions proposed that federal agencies change their visa program policies for pilots.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at email@example.com