The congressional shouting match that preceded last week's resolution of the Federal Aviation Administration's partial shutdown made it painfully clear that labor issues are a monkey wrench that could destroy otherwise bipartisan legislation. Although the initial debate over a temporary extension of FAA funding began with a spat over rural airport subsidies, it quickly devolved into a fight over how rail and aviation workers can vote to unionize. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, repeatedly took the Senate floor to object to Democrats' attempts to extend the FAA's funding, saying the National Mediation Board overstepped its bounds by changing how non-voters are counted in union elections. (They used to count as "no" votes. Now they don't count at all.) Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., blamed Delta Airlines for hawking "anti-worker language" in a House FAA bill that reversed the NMB's decision.
This isn't the first time labor issues have stymied the FAA bill. Last year, the bill was stalled over a dispute involving FedEx and how its employees would unionize.
Labor issues extend beyond the FAA. For some unions, like the Laborers' International Union of North America, a new highway bill is priority number one because many of its workers are employed in transportation projects. LIUNA will spend all of August mobilizing its members to advocate for a robust highway bill. They're getting political about it, too. Part of their message to lawmakers is to kill House Republicans' highway reauthorization plan, saying it will kill 630,000 jobs. It's not all a confrontation, however. The AFL-CIO has teamed up with its arch nemesis, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to advocate for more infrastructure investment.
What are other examples of how labor impacts transportation and infrastructure? How effective are labor unions in influencing the transportation debate? Are there anti-union forces that also impact the conversation? What can be done to avoid controversial labor issues stalling otherwise bipartisan transportation legislation?