FAA and controllers continue contract talks

 - September 26, 2006, 10:42 AM

With some air traffic controllers already earning more than $200,000 annually, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey is digging in her heels during the agency’s current round of negotiations with the  National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).

At the end of November, Blakey called for federal mediation to help the FAA reach a voluntary contract agreement with the air traffic controllers union. NATCA, which contends the two sides are making progress, immediately denounced that move as unnecessary.

The FAA’s contract proposal maintains the base pay of current controllers, who are among the highest paid federal workers. But additional automatic pay increases will not continue, although current controllers will still be eligible for annual, merit-based raises.

The FAA also wants to bring in new hires at what it considers a more realistic pay scale, one that narrows the salary gap between the controllers and rest of the agency’s safety-focused employees and is pegged to the civil service wage scale.

The union is calling for a guaranteed annual pay increase of 5.6 percent as well as a shorter workday of seven hours, which includes a 30-minute paid lunch break. According to the FAA, this would represent a 12-percent decrease in productivity for controllers whose actual time spent controlling aircraft at the FAA’s largest facilities already averages less than 4.5 hours per day.

The agency’s proposal would provide managers with greater flexibility to staff, schedule and operate air traffic facilities to address daily, seasonal and long-term changes in air traffic, Blakey said.

The controllers’ union is proposing to raise the total compensation–including benefits–of all controllers to more than $200,000 in the next four years. Blakey said this would add $2.6 billion to the agency’s payroll over the life of the contract.

The FAA warned that the union’s proposal also would jeopardize its ability to hire 12,500 controllers over the next decade to meet the pending controller retirement wave.

The FAA began contract negotiations with the union in July. The existing contract, which has been in effect since 1998, expired on September 30 last year but has a clause that allows its terms to remain in place as long as talks continue.

If either side declares an impasse, the matter will be referred to Congress. If Congress makes no changes within 60 days, the FAA proposal would take effect.