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Senate denies “Brown Bailout”; UPS, FedEx Express react

The U.S. Senate on Monday voted 93-0 to advance the FAA Reauthorization Act to fund the FAA through 2011. The bill itself is not unlike the transportation bill that we’re all waiting for Congress to act upon. This bill, though, which focuses on the nation’s airline industry, includes a battle that has been waging for some time between UPS and FedEx Express.

The Senate bill, which does not include language reclassifying FedEx Express truck drivers under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act rather than the Railway Labor Act, must still be reconciled with the House of Representative’s version, which does. The change in classification, which FedEx Express dubbed the "Brown Bailout," would presumably make it easier for FedEx drivers to unionize. UPS, which supports the bill, is heavily unionized already.

“We are encouraged that the United States Senate passed an FAA Reauthorization bill that is focused on modernizing our air travel system and enhancing important safety provisions that we support, including an increase in co-pilot training requirements. To their credit, the Senate has rejected efforts to include an ill-conceived 230-word bailout provision inserted by UPS lobbyists into the House bill that would change how FedEx Express has been regulated since its founding 38 years ago,” Maury Lane, director of media relations for FedEx Corp., said in a statement.

The real battle now begins. Lobbying behind the scenes will continue as House and Senate leaders try to merge the two bills before sending a final version on to President Obama for signing.

“We hope that the House and Senate can quickly move to pass final FAA reauthorization legislation to improve passenger and air safety, implement space-based navigational technology, and increase funding for airport improvement projects across the country,” Lane said. “This is an important bill that should advance without extraneous labor provisions and we continue to believe that UPS should abandon its bailout quest which puts the interests of UPS ahead of the public.”

UPS, for its part, made no mention of the House provision when praising the Senate for passing its bill Monday.

“It is rare that one piece of legislation accomplishes as much as this bill does for both our nation’s economy and American shippers and travelers,” said CEO Scott Davis. “Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison, Dorgan and DeMint are to be congratulated for their efforts to advance this critical legislation.”

“A modern and efficient aviation system is essential for short- and long-term economic progress and ensures that those who use the system can do so with confidence that it is as safe as possible,” Davis added.

The final bill will ultimately pass, likely without the provision, I suspect. In the end, funding to modernize our airport infrastructure and aviation safety is just too important to be delayed over labor classifications for one company, regardless of which company that is.

But in the end, like most things in Washington, it will probably come down to who gets what pork and what other legislation that senator or representative needs support on. That’s how Washington works.