The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) called the FAA’s imposition of new work rules over the Labor Day weekend “a brazen, arrogant trampling of the collective bargaining system” and a threat to the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System.
“It’s like getting fired on Christmas,” said new Natca president Pat Forrey. “It’s the worst punch-in-the-gut blow to the morale of this workforce imaginable. 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 FAA had announced on June 5 that it would unilaterally institute the new contract following months of negotiations and declaration of an impasse on April 5. The agency said it would continue to operate under the old contract while the new one was being phased in.
But the union vowed to continue its fight. After the August 27 crash of Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington, Ky., Forrey told The Washington Post that a second controller in the tower “probably would have spotted the plane racing down the wrong runway.” Only one controller was working in the tower at the time of the early-morning accident, and the FAA admitted that its own guidelines call for two controllers to be on duty.
Staffing Shortages Loom
Forrey said the Lexington accident highlighted short-staffing across the country and pointed out that the number of controllers has dropped by about 1,400 since 2003.
Three days before the accident, the FAA released an updated Air Traffic Controller Workforce Plan designed to address anticipated retirement and replacement of air traffic controllers over the coming decade. The revised document outlines the agency’s plans to hire more than 11,800 new air traffic controllers over the next 10 years.
The agency is anticipating thousands of retirements by 2012 as controllers hired after the 1981 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization strike reach the mandatory retirement age of 56.
Natca believes that the implementation of the FAA-imposed work rules violates federal statute and its old collective bargaining agreement, which was first signed in 1998 and extended for two years by FAA Administrator Marion Blakey in 2003. The union said the new 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 legislative and legal avenues for relief.” o