On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
A partial shutdown of the FAA began on July 23. Congress failed to pass a short-term funding extension. This furloughed 4,000 FAA employees and tens of thousands of airport construction workers. Planes are still flying, but the federal government is losing more than $30 million dollars a day from uncollected passenger ticket taxes. Republicans in the House and Senate Democrats disagree about union-forming rules and rural airport subsidies. As lawmakers leave for summer vacation, the stalemate threatens to stretch past Labor Day. What’s behind the impasse, and the consequences for the nation’s air system and the traveling public.
- Veda Shook International president, Association of Flight Attendants - CWA.
- Ken Simonson chief economist, Associated General Contractors of America
- Ashley Halsey III transportation reporter for the Washington Post
- James Sherk senior policy analyst in labor economics, the Heritage Foundation.
- Ray LaHood U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former Republican member of the United States House of Representatives.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Congress failed to reach an agreement yesterday that would have ended the partial shutdown of the FAA despite this urgent plea from President Obama.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAThere's another stalemate in Congress right now involving our aviation industry, which has stalled airport construction projects all around the country and put the jobs of tens of thousands of construction workers and others at risk because of politics. It's another Washington-inflicted wound on America, and Congress needs to break that impasse now.
REHMAnd joining me in the studio to talk about what caused the impasse, the shutdown, what it means for airline employees and the flying public: Ken Simonson of the Associated General Contractors of America, Veda Shook of the Association of Flight Attendants, Ashley Halsey of The Washington Post and James Sherk of The Heritage Foundation.
REHMBefore we begin the conversation here in the studio, we're joined by phone by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Good morning to you, sir.
SECRETARY RAY LAHOODGood morning, Diane.
REHMSo glad you could join us. Tell us why you believe Congress did not act yesterday to end the partial FAA shutdown.
LAHOODWell, there's no reason for them not to act, Diane. I think it was more just out of their own self-interest in maintaining positions. Whether it had to do with Essential Air Service or whether it had to do with other issues, it would have been quite easy for the Congress to pass an extension of -- as they have done on 20 other occasions.
LAHOODI asked them to pass the 21st extension, so our 4,000 employees wouldn't have to be furloughed without pay and 70,000 construction workers in the middle of the construction season would not have to be laid off. It would have been very easy for Congress to do this. They've done it on 20 other occasions.
LAHOODIt's really unconscionable to think that, you know, all these speeches that members of Congress give about creating jobs, and, here, they laid off -- they were responsible for 70,000 construction people being laid off and 4,000 employees being furloughed.
REHMTell me how you think it's going to affect the nation's airports. People are worried about whether it's even safe to fly.
LAHOODDiane, it is safe to fly. It is safe to fly. We would never allow safety to be compromised on the airlines. Air traffic controllers are in their positions today. They're guiding hundreds of planes in and out of airports. Thousands of people are boarding airplanes all day today. Flying is safe. Travel plans will not be compromised because we wouldn't allow that to happen.
LAHOODFlying is safe.
REHMI understand that some FAA runways at airports are being checked by inspectors who were paying for travel expenses out of their own pockets.
LAHOODOur safety people are professional people. Our safety people know that they have a job to do. Our safety people would never compromise the important work that they do. They're doing their work without compensation. They're doing their work on their own dime, if you will. And they're doing it because they're dedicated federal employees.
REHMI want you to hear from a woman who called this program yesterday, who is one of those people laid off.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMANI'm a federal employee who works for the FAA, who happens to be furloughed. And I am livid, furious, disgusted, disenchanted with Congress right now. We are suffering. We don't have any idea when we're coming back to work. And this is not -- it's not on anyone's radar screens. The debt ceiling has drowned us out.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMANWe have over 4,000 FAA employees across the country, not to mention the tens of thousands private sector employees that cannot work because Congress is acting like idiots and children.
REHMHave they been drowned out, Mr. Secretary? Is their plight, that is furlough, laid off, whatever, going to continue for weeks and even months?
LAHOODWell, I think they have not been drowned out, Diane. The president mentioned it in his press conference yesterday. I had a call yesterday with over 200 reporters on a phone call. I had -- yesterday, I probably did a dozen interviews, in addition to the call with over 200 reporters.
LAHOODWe are working 24/7 to let people know that unfairness with which Congress left on their own vacations, while they left federal employees vacated from their positions and 70,000 construction workers, we're going to keep the drumbeat up so that people know who's to blame for joblessness in America. It's not the president, and it's not this administration.
LAHOODIt's members of Congress who couldn't set aside their own agendas and their own little -- what they thought were important issues to send 70,000 people on to the unemployment line.
REHMGive me a sense of some of the projects directly affected by this shutdown.
LAHOODIn California, there are three very important projects: one in Oakland, one in San Diego and one in -- at LAX. These are all tower projects where they're constructing towers. I was at LaGuardia two days ago, standing with unemployed construction workers and furloughed FAA employees, where they're tearing down a tower at LaGuardia Airport. There are projects like this going on all over America.
LAHOODSen. Reid made a statement yesterday. Even though one of his airports would be impacted by what was in the House bill, he was willing to set that aside to pass a bill. And he has a huge construction project going on at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, where they're building a new tower. And so this -- you know, there were some leaders, but not many.
REHMDo you think there's any hope of a timely solution here?
LAHOODLook, I'm -- hope is dim at the moment. I guess, we can always be hopeful, but the light of hope is about ready to flicker out. And -- but you can count on me continuing the drumbeat on shows like yours. I was just on C-SPAN. I'm going to make a number of other appearances today and throughout the weekend.
LAHOODAnd I will continue the drumbeat until this is resolved...
LAHOOD...until our employees can go back to work and construction workers, right in the middle of the construction season, can do what they have to do to earn a paycheck.
REHMRay LaHood, he is U.S. Secretary of Transportation, former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Thank you so much for joining us, sir.
LAHOODThank you so much, Diane. Appreciate your interest.
REHMAll right. And turning to you now, Ashley Halsey, give us a bit of the history of this, little of the background. Some people are saying it goes all the way back to Ronald Reagan and his firing of Federal Aviation employees.
MR. ASHLEY HALSEY IIII think that that's a little bit of a reach. But I do think that we have a very complex issue going on right now, and I'll really simplify it for you. This is an issue over how unions should be able to organize the airline industry. And the ramifications of this shutdown are much greater than temporary stoppage of projects to expand airports and the like. The ramifications of this come into context of the expansion of the airline industry.
MR. ASHLEY HALSEY IIIWithin 10 years, they anticipate there will be almost 300 million more passengers a year. Last time I was on the show, we were talking about Michelle Obama's plane getting too close to another plane. The organization of the airways and the way the planes come in and land and mix in the air is essential to the future of aviation, 300 million more passengers.
MR. ASHLEY HALSEY IIIWhat is at stake here is expansion of airports to handle that and, more importantly, something called NextGen, which is a $40 billion give-or-take program that both the airlines and the federal government are working on to make the airways safer and to handle those additional passengers. And when you talk about 4,000 furloughed workers, lots of them are working on NextGen.
REHMHow much does it have to do with the whole idea of airline employees being able to form their own unions?
IIIThat's the core issue, and it's a complex one. But the House wants to reverse a ruling that would have changed the way that happens. And the Senate does not want that to happen, and the Obama administration does not want that to happen. The -- what has stopped the system right now is a secondary issue that was used as a stalking horse. But the real issue is the union organization issue.
REHMThe National Mediation Board ruling approved last year allows airline employees to form their own unions. So what happened?
IIIMost airlines do have unionization. But the airline unionization is controlled by the Railway Act, as opposed to the National Labor Relations Act, two different acts. National Labor Relations is -- it governs most union elections. National Railway Act governs airline elections.
IIIIn those elections, instead of a simple majority carrying the day, people who choose not to vote in the election are counted as no votes. So it's much more difficult to form a union in the airlines than it is elsewhere.
REHMAshley Halsey, he is transportation reporter for The Washington Post. We'll take a short break here. We do invite your calls, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd after the big debt ceiling fight, Congress left town with unresolved issues, especially one related to the Federal Aviation Administration. That's what we're talking about this morning with 4,000 employees furloughed, many thousands of others without jobs.
REHMHere in the studio, Ken Simonson, chief economist at the Associated General Contractors of America. Veda Shook, she is international president of the Association of Flight Attendants. Ashley Halsey, he's transportation reporter for The Washington Post. And Jim Sherk, he's at the Heritage Foundation. I want to come back to you, Ashley, and get you to tell us briefly what was in the House bill that passed two weeks ago in regard to the FAA.
IIIWhen Congress is negotiating long-term funding for any agency, it often passes extensions that continue funding at the current level so that the agency can go on while the negotiations continue. In this case, an extension passed by the House included a couple of provisions that were really onerous to members of the Senate, regarding something called the Essential Air Service, a $163 million program that provides subsidies for commercial service to rural airports.
IIIAnd the Senate has some real problems with that. And that was one of the things that was being negotiated in the larger bill. And they felt that the House should not have included that in the extension. They should have passed what they call a clean extension bill.
REHMVeda Shook, you were at a White House briefing with President Obama. What's the effect of the shutdown on your members?
MS. VEDA SHOOKOn our members right now? We work for airlines, obviously, fly through airports, work in airports, where these critical projects are happening right now. And so, from our perspective, we need to get those professionals back to work, to be, as Ashley was talking about, progressing on NextGen, that that is obviously important.
MS. VEDA SHOOKAnd from a flight attendant perspective, we really need to make sure that our aviation system continues to not just be world-class, but can definitely be the best in the world, and so that our airlines can compete effectively on a global scale.
REHMWhat's your take on what's happening in the Congress or not happening?
SHOOKWell, this is purely political and, frankly, a perversion of the process on what's happened. And it's not what people elected their Congress members to do.
REHMHow do you see it as purely political?
SHOOKBecause they're working through -- I mean, to be willing to put 4,000 workers unceremoniously on the street and over 70,000 construction jobs and put 250 projects on hold is just -- is mind-boggling. And these are critical projects -- so, you know, runway landing lights being installed, seismic upgrades for our control towers, in addition to building new towers.
SHOOKSo when they're working through the issues, as Ashley mentioned, on a Senate version of the bill and a House version of the bill, and they have passed these simple funding extensions 20 times over without controversy, to fail to do that this time is just outrageous.
REHMKen Simonson, give us a picture of some of the projects your members are working on and how the shutdown is affecting those and them.
MR. KEN SIMONSONSure. Well, first, I agree with Veda Shook, that this is outrageous. This is like a bomb going off, and the people who are being hurt are ones who are working there on a job site. It's not whoever the intended target was. As Secretary LaHood said, the public is safe. The airlines are flying. The airline employees are still on the job. But thousands of construction workers have received stop work notices, their companies have, at air traffic control towers.
MR. KEN SIMONSONOur CEO, Steve Sandherr, stood next to Secretary LaHood at LaGuardia on Monday, along with the construction company and some of those workers who have been laid off. Similar reports in just about every state of projects being stopped, but it's not just construction workers. Because when a construction project stops, the company isn't ordering materials. It's not using services.
MR. KEN SIMONSONAnd the workers and owners in the construction and supplying businesses, they're not getting paychecks or dividends that they then spend in the rest of the economy. So, ironically, it's practically everybody except the airline employees who are now being affected in a negative way.
REHMAnd what is your view of the labor provisions controversy about this whole FAA?
SIMONSONWe are innocent bystanders. Associated General Contractors represents both union and non-union contractors, and none of them have a stake in this particular fight. We certainly have our issues, but we want our people to keep working. Particularly, Secretary LaHood said, while it's the height of the construction season, some of these projects, if they're deferred until September, they really won't be able to do -- complete the project until next year.
REHMJim Sherk, I imagine you have a different view of this whole controversy.
MR. JAMES SHERKWell, I actually do think it's quite silly. I mean, the provision in the House bill that the Senate is objecting to would have basically said that you've got these subsidies to rural airports within about 90 miles of a major hub airport, about $16 million a year. And these rural airports service very few people. And so you're talking subsidies of, in some cases, over $3,000 per passenger.
MR. JAMES SHERKAnd they're saying, look, in a time of these extreme budget deficits, this is one of those pork barrel projects we can gut. And so the House-passed version said that, all right, if you're within 90 miles of a major hub airport, no subsidies for you. Taxpayers don't need to prop that up. But, unfortunately, there are some very powerful members of the Senate, Sen. Rockefeller...
SHERK...of West Virginia, Sen. Baucus of Montana who chairs the Finance Committee and, of course, Senate Majority Leader Reid of Nevada, who would have shut off subsidies to the airports in their home states. And so the Senate, despite the House having passed the extension bill with these very modest cuts, simply said, you include these cuts, and we're not going to pass it, and didn't act before Congress recessed. And I actually agree. It's pretty ridiculous.
REHMYou agree it's ridiculous.
SHERKThere's no reason for the Senate not to get rid of these absurd pork barrel projects. The Senate-passed version of the bill included a provision eliminating these subsidies. I mean, this is something that -- everyone can say this is wasteful spending. We've got to get things under control.
SHOOKSo there are some other powerful members of the Senate that we can talk about it in a minute that actually obstructed getting this solved, in fact, yesterday. So -- but let's just talk about the money for a minute. So he's right that there would be some savings to the taxpayers of the Essential Air Service. And that is being worked out in conference. In fact, absolutely, negotiations are happening on that.
SHOOKBut what we're talking about is $30 million a day in lost revenue for these taxes. So, one week, $200 million in lost revenue that will never be recouped. When we're talking about having a debt crisis, $200 million in one week, which is more than the entire budget for Essential Air Service in an entire year -- so, you know, we have to get this straight.
SHOOKAnd just a moment on -- for example, Sen. Orrin Hatch stopped this and was quoted, you know, as saying that this is some runaway National Mediation Board. And if you please, in a few minutes, I can walk through the irony of what is at stake here in this labor provision that they want to shove into FAA.
REHMGo ahead and do that now.
SHOOKSo the National Mediation Board is the agency that oversees unions and the rail and aviation industry. And they did have a change to the rule because, you know, 75 years ago, it was a presumption that people would vote -- choose between unions. So there was not -- it was -- the rule was that a majority of workers had to actually vote affirmatively to join a union -- so, in other words, 50 percent plus one of the total eligible population.
SHOOKWell, that is not the way the rule is now. And it went through the full vetting process and legal challenges, all this, and has been upheld. So there is no other election in the United States, from Congress to "American Idol," where the results are decided by a simple majority. So, for example, in Sen. Hatch's last Senate race, less than 40 percent turnout for the whole eligible voting population.
SHOOKAnd, in fact, in the 2010 elections, not one single congressional race actually tipped 50 percent voter turnout, so this is really what it's about.
IIIThe issue arose -- just to give you the historical background -- back in the 1930s when there were some very, very crippling rail strikes, and Congress was looking for a way to make the unions less effective and to make union organizing less effective. And so it passed this rule that said if you choose to vote -- if you choose not to vote, your vote will count as a no in the union election. And that has been the case ever since.
IIIAnd when a -- there are three members on the National Mediation Board. When Obama had an opportunity to add someone to the board, it tipped the balance. And they ruled -- they changed the rule so that it's just a simple majority vote for airlines as well. And this particularly affects Delta Airlines, which has had recent union organizing attempts, and those attempts have been defeated.
IIIAnd there is concern in -- among Republican members of Congress that, using this new rule, the unions may prevail.
REHMWhat about Delta Airlines, Jim Sherk? Is it behind this whole process?
SHERKWell, I think it's being tied into it. They actually did have a vote under the new rule of Delta. It's the third time the flight attendants had voted on union representation. And, for the third time, the flight attendants said, no, we don't want to pay for union representation. The difference between political elections and these union elections is you can un-elect your member of Congress. You can elect them.
SHERKOne year and two years later, you don't like what he's doing. Vote for someone else. With the union elections, it's almost impossible to certify the unions at a large airline. There isn't the same sort of, you know, majority vote procedure that you have for the -- getting in. And so the question is, what's the level of support for employees to make a permanent choice for a union?
SHERKAnd the answer, for 75 years, has been, a majority of workers ought to affirmatively support the union before it becomes binding. You don't want a minority of workers locking everyone into a union again ever.
SHOOKSo we just were a part of an election for representation, where there was a choice at the merger with Continental and United Airlines. And there was a voting pool of 20,000 workers. Exactly 65 voted for no representation, so it's an extraneous argument to say that it's impossible to get rid of a union. The facts just showed that they don't get rid of a union once they have one.
SHOOKBut we need to come back to this -- they need to pass the clean extension, get these people back to work, 4,000 FAA employees, 70,000 construction workers, billions of dollars on projects on hold. And does a labor provision belong in FAA funding of our world-class aviation system to compete on a global scale? It's insider politics in Washington that, unfortunately, have ramifications in 50 states today.
REHMVeda Shook, she's international president of the Association of Flight Attendants. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." This whole question of Delta Airlines, our caller whom you heard earlier, who called in to the program yesterday, blamed the whole thing on Delta Airlines. Should Delta bear much of the blame here, Ashley?
IIIWell, certainly, John Rockefeller -- Jay Rockefeller thinks so. And he has said that on three different occasions on the House -- on the Senate floor. He says that it's all very simply about Delta Airlines. I'm not sure that it's simply Delta. I think it's a larger issue to the Republicans. And I think that John Mica has said that he'd be open to a situation where unions could decertify by a simple majority, too. And that might satisfy him.
IIII am not sure whether House Speaker John Boehner would go along with that, but I do know that Mica has expressed that to me in conversation.
REHMSo the key issue, as far as everyone here is concerned, is the unions?
SIMONSONFor the construction industry, it's the cost of shutting down construction work, laying off people who are in an industry with an unemployment rate that's almost 16 percent. There are three costs that are not readily identified with this, but it costs a lot of money to shut down a construction site, secure the site, to start it up again. The materials cost can be rising after that time.
SIMONSONAnd the workers may, you know, be discouraged and leave. And you can't just take someone off the street and put them in the middle of an airport construction project. You need trained workers.
IIIIt's absolutely the union issue. The issue -- John Mica would like to do away with the Essential Air Services program, but he know he's -- that's the one to rural airports. But he knows he's not going to get that, and it would be very easy to negotiate. The Senate has showed a willingness to curtail that program as well, so that's a very much a negotiable side issue.
IIIBut it's a matter of principle to both the administration and to the Republicans to resolve this labor issue, and that's really the sticking point.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones here, 800-433-8850. First to Griffin, Ga., and to Gail. Good morning. You're on the air.
GAILGood morning. How are you?
REHMFine, thanks. Go right ahead, please.
GAILI am one of the FAA employees who has been furloughed. I'm also a member of the union, a member of NATCA, And I am just absolutely shocked and appalled at what has been going on. I was, you know, intently watching this whole situation about the debt ceiling. and I thought, for sure, once they have this resolved, they will deal with our issue of the FAA re-authorization.
GAILAnd for them to just say, oh, no, we're just going to go home, 4,000 people in FAA and the additional 70,000 people not having work, not having paychecks in the midst of the economic crisis that we're in and all the talk about getting people -- having people get jobs, how could they just walk away?
REHMHow could they just walk away, Jim Sherk?
SHERKWell, the House of Representatives passed a bill. They kept the contentious labor provision out of that bill. The only thing they did was cut these, you know, $16 million in subsidies to this, you know, pork barrel projects. And the Senate was the one that refused to act and has refused to vote, even though the labor provision was, again, that stopgap measure.
SHERKI think it's quite ridiculous on the part of the Senate, and it's a horrible situation. It shouldn't have come to this.
REHMBut how -- I heard Ashley say earlier that, in fact, Harry Reid was willing to go along with it.
SHERKFrom what I've heard, it was centered at Rockefeller from West Virginia, who wasn't willing to go along with that.
IIIReid, yesterday, was willing to go along with it, according to the conversations that I had. Diane, at the risk of sounding sexist, there was a whole lot of testosterone flowing over this in Congress. And it's at the expense of an estimated...
REHMPeople like Gail.
IIIGail and thousands of other people.
REHMThousands of others. Ashley Halsey, he's transportation reporter for The Washington Post. Another break here, and when we come back, more of your calls, your email. I know many of you are wondering whether the president has the authority to call the Congress back into session to deal with this. We shall see.
REHMAnd just to give you a brief sense of where we stand with this FAA -- what do we call it -- a shutdown, a sort of a tentative stop order, you've got a total number of stop work orders at 248. You've got the value of contracts, tasks with stop work orders, at over $10 billion. And an email from Mary, who says, "Why is no one talking about the way the airlines immediately increase ticket prices? It may amount to the tax not being collected." Jim.
SHERKWell, that's actually what basic economic theory would suggest, that if you've got a very short-term tax cut, that people don't expect us to continue on, that the businesses will pocket, you know, that difference because it's not going to change consumers' behavior too much. Now, if Congress were going to permanently eliminate the tax, which is not going to happen, then what the airlines would probably do is then they'll cut their prices by the, you know, the amount of the tax.
REHMSo are you saying that the airlines up their ticket prices because they're anticipating that the federal government -- that the Congress is going to reinstate these taxes very quickly and, therefore, they want to be ready to pay the government those taxes?
SHERKWell, sort of. They're not going to pay the back taxes. And so whatever they're not collecting the difference, the government is never going to collect. But if you bought a ticket to -- you fly somewhere, say, for $350 after your taxes and all that, then you're willing to pay $350. And you've already indicated that. And so the airlines are not going to give you the $50 discount.
REHMThey're not going to give it to you back, are they?
SHERKOf course not.
SHOOKNo. And, furthermore, the airlines have cried for years that the consumers can't afford these taxes, so they can't afford any increase. And so that false flat, that total argument that -- so it just drops right back down.
REHMAll right. Let's take a call from David in Washington, D.C. Good morning. You're on the air.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane. Thank you for your informative show this morning.
DAVIDAnd thank you for your guests and your callers for the engaging dialogue. I'm the national president of the FAA Managers Association here in Washington. D.C. And we represent -- we're a professional organization that represents and advocates for the managers within the FAA. The immediate crisis here, without taking any side in the political debate -- and it's engaging on both sides.
DAVIDBut the immediate crisis is the 4,000 workers that are out of a job and out of a paycheck for what may be six weeks. So, last night, our organization announced in a press release the FAA Managers Association furlough relief fund to help furloughed employees who will be without a paycheck for this period of time.
DAVIDA lot of our member -- this is in response to a lot of our members who wanted to know how they could help out their fellow employees. So we work with our partner organization, FEEA, or the Federal Employee Emergency Assistance Fund, to set up this furlough relief fund. And I'd like to appeal to your listeners, if they would like to help, to go to our website, which is www.faama.org.
DAVIDThat's www.faama.org. And select the furlough relief fund and follow the directions to either give, or if you're a furloughed employee, to request assistance.
REHMAll right, David. Thanks for calling. That doesn't help out you too much, does it, Ken?
SIMONSONAbsolutely. Historically, federal employees have always been made whole after a government shutdown. But private sector workers, the construction workers, the people at the lunch wagon across from the job site, the truck dealership across town, the Internet retailer across the country who aren't going to be getting income during this period, they can't be made whole.
REHMWhat happens, Ashley?
IIIThe -- there is an expectation that there will be a -- that these people will be made whole, the FAA employees. However, that will require an act of Congress.
IIIAnd Congress has set us up to lose $1.2 billion by the time this is over, from the ticket tax fund. And I wonder whether they're going to find the money somewhere to pay these people who have been furloughed.
SHERKI agree. It's completely ridiculous. You've got to shut down. You've got this pork barrel project, Essential Air Service's program. I'd certainly advocate taking money from that and using it to make the FAA controllers whole.
SHOOKThat's in no way going to erase the larger problem here of Ashley's number of the -- over a billion dollars. I think we need to come back to -- if action needs to be taken, the people need to call their Congress members or go visit them while they're on vacation visiting their home states.
SHOOKAnd the fact that they took a vacation while thousands, ten of thousands of people have been put on the street is just unimaginable, that they got in airplanes at our nation's airports and they flew through our safe skies on, you know, somewhat of an antiquated air traffic control system. And we're doing needed research, building critical projects, and they can just leave town on -- and these jobs on the street.
REHMIs there any possibility that the Senate could, in fact, act?
IIIBetween now and September?
REHMNo. Sooner than that.
IIIThere's always -- Congress works in magical ways, and so they can do pretty much anything they want. Do I think that they will? It certainly does not seem so. If they were going to do it, why didn't they do it yesterday? They gave no indication that they would, and nothing would surprise me. But I have no indication that they're going to act before September.
REHMAll right. To Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Kelly. You're on the air.
KELLYYes. Hi, Diane.
KELLYMy husband and I are huge fans of yours...
KELLY...and have been for 17 years.
KELLYAfter that, I just want to say that my question to you is this: the FBI said that the stuff they found at bin Laden's location indicated that he wanted a 10-year anniversary bang up for the United States of America. So I'm curious 'cause I don't know the answer to this. I haven't heard anyone address this. Is there -- with all these smaller airports being left empty, is that a threat to the United States of America because of small planes, U.S. small arsenal planes could be just as devastating as large airliners? So that's my question.
REHMThanks for calling, Kelly. Ashley.
IIIAs it relates to the partial FAA shutdown, no. There is nothing to worry about in that regard anymore so -- or less so than it has been a threat before. This has no effect on that particular issue.
REHMAll right. To Cleveland, Ohio. Tim, you're on the air.
TIMOh, good morning.
TIMThis is a fairness issue. Could you tell me what the CEO of Delta made last year and then compare that to, like, a ground ops worker or a mechanic?
IIII heard that number because Rockefeller used it on the floor of the Senate. Don't hold me to this, but I think it was $9 million in compensation.
REHMA year. I want to be clear about that.
IIIDon't hold me to this. I'm quoting Sen. Rockefeller.
SHOOKYes. And, Diane, if I may, my understanding, when we talk about Delta Air Lines, is they also had the -- asked for Essential Air Service. So it's -- you know, it's really a double standard in the irony. And, yes, it absolutely is a fairness standard and that they want to have an election unlike no other election in America where every no vote is counted as a non-vote.
REHMYeah, we have a note here that Delta paid its CEO $8 million in 2010.
REHMAll right. You exaggerated. What can I say?
IIII quoted the good senator.
IIIAnd if he said it on the floor, the senator must be true.
REHMAll right. Let's go to North Ridgeland Hills, Texas. Good morning, Susan.
SUSANGood morning. And I'm going to pretty much direct this to the guy from Heritage. As I see it, the whole agenda of the Republicans and the tea bags is working to where every service in government agency is turned into the private corporation. That seems to have been the agenda ever since Reagan.
REHMWhat do you think about that, Jim?
SHERKWell, I certainly think privatizing the air traffic control would be an excellent idea. Canada did that in 1996 and has realized tremendous efficiencies in -- on cost reductions. But that's nowhere in this bill, and that's not the issue holding things up here. But in terms of the workers being in a union, I mean, the essential principle is that it should be that of worker's choice. If they wanted a union, they should be in a union.
SHERKBut you shouldn't have a minority of workers able to vote all of their colleagues into a union that they can never get out of. Like at Delta and the merger with Northwest, the non-union flight attendants were actually making 12 percent more and had better pension plan than the unionized, you know, former Northwest employees. I mean, they had good reasons to say, hey, why are we paying $500 a year in union dues?
SHERKWhy would we do that when the union negotiated lower wages in Northwest? That's just not a good deal. Let them make the choice. Don't force workers permanently into a union they can't get out of.
SHOOKCertainly, if they can make that choice free from carrier interference. Again, we just had an election at United where almost 20,000 workers voted. The company wasn't omnipresent like it would have been in a Delta election. With the most recent election at Delta, this -- the vote spread. It's true that the flight attendants that wanted to have union representation lost by a narrow margin of 300-something votes.
SHOOKBut that was in the face of incredible employer interference by Delta Air Lines management.
REHMHow so? How so?
SHOOKYou name it, full tilt, floor-to-ceiling banners, videos sent to the home, phone calls by your supervisor to your home, which doesn't usually happen unless you're in trouble. Flight attendants check in -- I can only speak from the flight attendant perspective -- they check in to work on a company computer. When they signed in to the company computer, the flash screen would say, have you voted?
SHOOKSo -- and, you know, obviously, they know who that is because you'd have to log in. And then it would direct you to a screen depending on what -- whether or not your choice was. And it goes on. And we have filed interference charges, but there's also another attack on the National Mediation Board, this micro agency where they are, you know, having to do -- respond to all these requests, FOIA requests.
SHOOKAnd so, instead of being able to investigate these charges of interference or being able to help with contract settlements, they're having to not be allowed to actually do that work and do these other silly requests.
REHMAll right. To Chesapeake, Ohio. Good morning, Carl.
CARLGood morning. You know, I'm kind of an angry voter out here. And, basically, this Hoover Republican Congress is practicing extortion, you know? And my opinion is, is I think the secretary of Transportation should start shutting down airports, starting with the Tampa Airport and probably the Atlanta hub of Delta.
REHMAnybody have any thoughts about that?
IIIWell, they won't hurt Mica by shutting down the Atlanta hub. He told me the other day he hates to fly through Atlanta and doesn't like to fly Delta. But I think that would get the public really angry, and I don't think that would necessarily be the first best step to resolving this issue.
SHOOKI think that, again, while these people are out of work and there's this lack of funding by this $30 million a day that's not being put into the system, that, eventually, over the course of this month, we are going to begin seeing an impact with the airport inspectors.
REHMWhat kind of an impact?
SHOOKDo you want to speak to that, Ashley?
SHOOKTo airport inspectors, for example, that are not going to be paid.
IIII think the airport inspectors will stay on the job, and I think that they are...
IIII think it's very -- been made very clear to them that they're going to get compensated afterwards. I don't think this will be a significant financial loss to them, and they know it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now to Detroit, Mich. Good morning, Carol. You're on the air.
REHMYes. Go right ahead, please.
CAROLOh, I'm sorry. I put down my book, but -- my pocketbook, put out by the Cato Institute, (unintelligible) the Republicans. Anyway, in Article 2, Section 3, after it mentions that the president, time to time, does the State of the Union, he has the -- I'll see (unintelligible) -- he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses or either of them.
CAROLAnd in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time that he shall think proper.
IIIWell, she knows more than I do. I have not been in touch with the Constitution lately.
REHMJim, do you see any chance that the president is going to reconvene the Congress?
SHERKWell, the Congress hasn't even technically recessed. They're -- basically they've adjourned. But the House of Representatives, to block the president from making recess appointments, is holding pro forma sessions every three days. And so the Senate said it's going to be doing the same thing. They can't recess without the House. So at any point, they could come back and say, hey, let's deal with this issue.
SHERKAnd I think the Senate should come back. And, I mean, it's $16 billion -- sorry -- $16 million in pork barrel project fund, and that's not worth this.
REHMYou keep calling it pork barrel, but other people are not necessarily seeing it as pork barrel. How do you see it, Ken?
SIMONSONWell, certainly, the projects of building air traffic safety systems are not pork barrel. Everybody has agreed that that ought to go ahead, and yet those are the workers who have been cast aside. I think it's apt that this is called recess because Congress is acting like children. And they ought to come back and act like adults and let the adults who are working get back to work.
SHERKWell, I agree. What I was talking about was the Essential Air Services, in some cases, paying subsidies of over $3,000 a passenger to these rural airports that are within 90 miles of a major hub airport. I mean, cutting $16 million worth of subsidies, which was the major difference between what the House passed and what the Senate wants, I mean, that's not worth going through this. The Senate should accept that.
REHMBut aren't you losing a great deal of money every single day because of that subsidy?
SHERKWell, absolutely. And that's, again, why the Senate shouldn't be making such a big deal about this.
SIMONSONThe Essential Air Services issue is a real one, but it is a phony one. It is -- it matters to people, and it matters to senators. But the real issue here is the labor issue. And it's being -- the Essential Air Service issue is being put out there as an incentive to get the Senate to move on the labor issue, and it should not be taken seriously. They could resolve it in a matter of minutes if they sat down and negotiated about it seriously.
REHMI wonder if you've had any uproar from the general public yet about what's happening here, what's going on here.
SHOOKI don't know about the general uproar yet. I think that's going to be happening this week because, as Secretary LaHood said, you know, we're going to keep the drumbeat and increase it because we need to get these people back to work. I want to be clear, when he -- when Jim's saying that we have to bring, you know, that it's the Senate.
SHOOKThere are very reasonable people in the Senate and the House, including, for example, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, Republican, who said this is just -- I mean, I don't want to misquote her. But the general observation was that this is not how we need to do business and that we should pass a clean extension.
REHMVeda Shook, Ashley Halsey, Jim Sherk, Ken Simonson, thank you all so much. It's going to be interesting to watch how this plays out this week. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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