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NATCA President John Carr Responds to FAA Nationwide Press Conferences - (7/19/2005)

“It is my understanding that the FAA is holding over twenty press conferences across the country to speak about air traffic control contract negotiations, which officially started today. This highly coordinated media assault is a disappointing indication of how much time and energy the FAA is prepared to expend in attacking air traffic controllers – time and energy that would be so much better spent actually engaging in a good faith negotiation on how best to ensure the safety and modernization of our aviation system.

“America’s 14,500 air traffic controllers aren’t interested in political fights and we don’t like conducting negotiations in the press. We’re dedicated to the safety of the traveling public and the efficiency of the aviation system and we believe that’s what these negotiations are all about.

“The fact is America’s skies are getting busier. It’s up to all of us to make sure our air traffic control systems keep up with the times. And while the FAA is busy blaming air traffic controllers for the challenges the system faces, the record tells a very different story. Instead of putting in place a serious strategy aimed at meeting the looming staffing crisis by hiring and training the necessary numbers of new controllers – as a recent GAO Report said they should – the FAA has stalled hiring.

“Instead of investing in modernization the FAA has shunned cooperation with air traffic controllers, shutting down important safety programs and making vital decisions without the input of the men and women who know the air traffic control system best.

“And now, instead of negotiating in good faith, the FAA is launching a coordinated media assault aimed at justifying an ill-advised plan that would lead to fewer controllers guiding more planes.”

“So, regarding contract negotiations, we have a clear agenda. First, modernization: it’s time to stop paying lip service and to start making the necessary investments in the latest generation technology to keep the system safe and efficient. Second, staffing: with more planes in the skies, we need to have enough controllers in the towers. We have 1,000 fewer controllers in the towers than we did seven years ago. And they’re working more traffic. That problem needs to be addressed, immediately. Finally, fairness: we are committed to a fair, good faith negotiation. We hope the FAA feels the same. The fact that their opening gambit is to run to the media is not encouraging. But we are prepared to put the rhetoric aside if the FAA shows that it is not going to try to unilaterally impose their contract on us.

“One final, very important point. The FAA is making very misleading statements about the amount air traffic controllers are paid, and it’s vital that the American people know the truth. The salary figures being bandied about by the FAA are simply inflated by using standard federal benefits, and we’d be happy to show you the official pay scale to prove that. We think controllers are fairly and accurately compensated for high stress, high tech work for employees that even Director of OPM Kay Cole James recognizes will have ‘careers shorter than those of regular employees.’ Some controllers make more because of increased overtime – that’s because the FAA has failed to hire and train controllers in order to meet the needs of our ever more crowded skies. To require workers to do overtime and then publicly complain about having to pay them demonstrates a disappointing lack of respect for the men and women who are on the frontlines of air safety.”

“The stakes are simply too high for the FAA to engage in the sort of public grandstanding we’re seeing today. Air traffic controllers are asking the FAA to stop the political fighting and work with us, honestly and in good faith, to ensure the goal we can all agree on: the continued safety of the flying public.”

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