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Cruel Irony: FAA to Force Imposed Work Rules on Controllers on Labor Day Weekend; Rest, Staffing, Morale, Wages to Suffer - (9/1/2006)

WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration plans to celebrate Labor Day weekend by unilaterally imposing work rules and conditions on its air traffic controller workforce in a brazen, arrogant trampling of the collective bargaining process that promises to have negative impacts on the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System.

“It’s like getting fired on Christmas. It’s the worst, punch-in-the-gut blow to the morale of this workforce imaginable,” said National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Pat Forrey. “But our position is very simple: We do not consider the imposed work rules to be valid because they were not negotiated and have not been ratified by the NATCA membership.”

The agency told NATCA several weeks ago that it would impose work rules and conditions on Sept. 3 and then spent untold millions of taxpayer dollars to send every manager in its ranks to St. Louis last week for training on what and how to impose. However, a NATCA review of the imposed work rules reveals that the agency has parted from what it told Congress it was going to implement after walking away from talks in early April, declaring impasse.

There are several key parts of the imposed work rules that have real and potentially dangerous consequences for the safety and efficiency of the air traffic control system:

  • Pay freezes and cuts for veteran controllers means the removal of a financial incentive to continue working past their retirement eligibility date. One in four controllers nationwide will reach their eligibility date before the end of next year. The FAA, which underestimated its controller retirement forecast to Congress in 2005 by 36 percent, is not prepared for an anticipated spike in retirements due to the imposed work rules that will exacerbate a nationwide controller shortage that’s already reached seven percent since 2003. 
  • A 30 percent average wage cut for new controllers will make it harder for the FAA to recruit and hire its much-needed next generation.
  • Under Article 25, Section 3 of the imposed work rules, “sick leave cannot be granted for rest.” That means that if a controller does not feel adequately rested to assume their duties, they will be forced to work anyway.
  • Under Article 33, Section 1 of the imposed work rules, the FAA is eliminating one of the most basic controller work rules that has ensured an adequate margin of safety for decades – taking a break after no more than two hours on position. Now, the FAA has declared that overworking its controllers ignoring longstanding practices to combat fatigue is its management right.
NATCA believes that the implementation of the FAA-imposed work rules violates federal statute and our current collective bargaining agreement (first signed in 1998 and extended by FAA Administrator Marion Blakey in 2003), as these work rules were neither agreed to by the parties nor ratified by the NATCA membership.

“Since the imposed work rules do not constitute an agreement or contract, it would be in both parties’ best interests to negotiate a ratifiable agreement,” Forrey said. “We will continue to pursue any and all legislative and legal avenues for relief.”


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