Saturday, January 26, 2008

While Rome Burns

There are so many thoughts swirling through this lump of grey matter that I find it difficult to sleep beyond five or six hours every night. I had two issues in mind today, and perhaps I can weave them both in here since they are both significant to the future of the national airspace system and the safety of the flying public.

The air traffic controllers who are a majority of the audience here are all too familiar with our situation. To the rest of you, I will try and summarize. In 2000, the American people elected perhaps the biggest pro-corporation anti-worker President we have ever seen. For the four years that followed, he carried out his anti-American agenda from the back pocket of corporate America. With heavy hearts and fear in their minds, the American people reelected this man. By 2005, the air traffic controllers of this country were at the bargaining table with these thieves. By mid-2006, the party was over. Although my union worked tirelessly, the inevitable happened. This President used his powers of persuasion (some would call it coercion) to convince the United States Congress to tacitly approve of the Federal Aviation Administration's rape of an entire workforce. In less than a year, the nation's air traffic controllers were stripped of their right to collectively bargain. We were literally thrown back into the 1800s. People died for the right to collectively bargain, and these legislators allowed it to happen without fanfare.

The calendar has turned to 2008. Soon it will be two years since negotiations broke down, two years since the lawmakers approved of these egregious acts. Facing morale that was dropping faster than the temperatures in Green Bay, their pay frozen like the tundra of Lambeau Field, this workforce has had enough. Over 1600 air traffic controllers walked away during the last fiscal year – the period from October 2006 through September 2007. Think about it. More than 10% of the workforce decided it was no longer worth it. Since the start of this fiscal year, another 600+ controllers have walked away. The body count stands at 2200 out of a workforce of 15000 (nearly 15% of all air traffic controllers), their voices forever silenced. With them, they take thousands of years of experience. When NATCA warned the former FAA Administrator that this would happen, she shrugged it off thinking the "greedy, overpaid, underworked controllers would stay for the money" and "we have people lining up to do the job for a fraction of what we are paying them."

Having lived through this, nothing surprises me anymore. It's a feeling of total numbness. This past week, this agency handed out their performance bonuses. You see, the salary of nearly every air traffic controller hired before 9/06 is above the FAA's new pay scale. What this means is unless these rules are reversed or my pay catches up with their new scale, I do not get yearly pay raises. Every other Government worker gets pay raises. The supervisors and managers who work in my building get pay raises. Instead, if I'm a good little soldier, I get a lump sum that is equivalent to the pay raise I would have gotten. If I do more than just talk to airplanes, they'll toss in another $600. Hell, if I really, really, really impress them, I get $1800! We worked very hard in the 1990s to eliminate the "pay for performance" system because you simply cannot quantify the work we do in that fashion. You either keep airplanes safely moving through the system or you don't. Furthermore, a pay for performance system is designed to do little more than pit employee versus employee in a career field that doesn't work without cohesiveness.

To say that someone is a better employee because they give a tour, provide training, draw maps or teach a class is just asinine. What it does is takes a qualified air traffic controller away from their primary duties, leaving you and your family without that extra set of eyes to keep you safe. The controllers are being rewarded for doing work that should be performed by someone whose primary duty is not working air traffic. It's like asking a surgeon to file patient history instead of performing surgery. It's only a matter of time before someone dies in the waiting room.

This is why we are bracing for the next wave of retirements. Many people who became eligible last year decided to walk away on January 3rd, when they could maximize several benefits. Many others waited for that windfall, to take a few thousand dollars from the Agency before they walked away. This isn't a wag, this is based upon what happened last February and what I have direct knowledge of this year. Meanwhile, the remaining 11000 or so qualified air traffic controllers will continue to go in and pick up the pieces every day, because that is what we do. We have little choice. The FAA says they are hiring air traffic controllers. This is patently false. They are hiring people for us to develop into air traffic controllers, a process that can take anywhere from two to five years. "I'm sorry Mrs. Jones, but we don't have a fully qualified surgeon here. This developmental surgeon will be removing that tumor." That is where the air traffic system sits today. There is no other choice.

Since the FAA has been called "FEMA with wings", it is of little surprise that these people couldn't manage the drive thru at the Chick-Fil-A. (No offense to the Chick-fil-a managers around the country. I'm sure you do fine work.) What is disappointing is the refusal of the United States Congress to fix this mess the FAA has gotten us into. To be fair, the House of Representatives has approved their fix. Thanks to Congressmen Oberstar, Costello and others too numerous to mention, the House of Representatives has approved HR2881, which overturns the actions of this administration and gives air traffic controllers a fair chance at the bargaining table. Unfortunately, the Senate does not see the urgency of the matter. 2200 controllers are gone and the FAA is predicting that we will lose another 800. Of course, they will move the goal posts when we go careening past that number. It is not a stretch to think that one in four qualified controllers will have left in a two year period. Considering it takes a minimum of two years to make a replacement and they have just begun to hire the individuals for us to develop into air traffic controllers, we are facing a crisis. Remember what I wrote about two days ago - 22 errors and 5 accidents in one weekend? My manager blames the winter doldrums. It is obvious that the air traffic controllers are stretched to their limits. The system is teetering and anyone who tells you it isn't is lying to you.

Tomorrow, I will leave for Washington, DC to meet with our legislators. The message to every United States Senator is clear: Aviation safety is in our hands. Its future is in yours.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

All is Well - Remain Calm!

Aside from my family, golf, my union, the labor movement and my job, politics is obviously my passion. I’m not sure what has drawn me to politics, but as you can see from my passages to date, it is something I love to read and write about. I typically do not think about my job or how those in charge are running the US aviation system to the brink of failure, but today happens to be one of those days.

There are many people in my union who are writing about the current state of the air traffic control system and those who “manage” it – and I use the term loosely. Check out FAA Follies, Get the Flick and The Main Bang for some witty and insightful information on that topic.

I urge everyone to check our Don Brown’s post from a few days ago: Air Traffic: Safety vs. Capacity. It is written from the perspective of someone who knows and cares more about the safety aspect of aviation than perhaps anyone you will ever meet, and he has an incredible knack for putting things into perspective that everyone can understand.

I certainly cannot hold a candle to what my brothers and sisters are writing and will never try. I simply do not have the time or energy. For my own sanity, today is just one of those days that I feel compelled to write about yesterday at work.

The shift began with little fanfare. Those who had worked a day shift were packing up the remnants of their lunches, grabbing their winter gear and heading for the exits. I stopped to kibitz for a minute as I prepared to start my shift. It was typical air traffic for a Wednesday afternoon in mid-January.

After my first break, I was handed a binder with a “briefing item” to read. You see, FAA management is too busy to provide any type of recurrent or refresher training, so we are relegated to training ourselves by reading these boring items, watching videos and PowerPoint presentations. This briefing item contained summaries of the 22 “controller errors” from around the system this past weekend as well as five accidents – an unusually high amount in a system that runs at near perfection. FAA management felt it was necessary to make sure I was aware that we’re slipping and we need to do better. It was presented in a way that a manager would tell a 16-year old not to waste those blackened fries in the bottom of the basket at McDonalds.

What struck me as odd was the cover letter my manager wrote. He began by speaking about the “winter doldrums” and how “we can all get complacent” and “we need to be more diligent”. I didn’t think much of it until I read a little further down, “We can’t think of them as blips on a screen – there are thousands of lives that depend upon us every day. Really? First of all, as if I needed someone who pushes papers around a desk all day – and does little else – to remind me of what is at stake every time I key my microphone and speak to an airplane. Furthermore, I’m no psychologist, but typically I divorce myself from the thought of the thousands of lives. How else could someone work in a pressure filled environment? You want your surgeon to be aware that he or she has your life in their hands but you certainly don’t want that in the forefront as their shaky hand runs the scalpel across your chest.

As I pondered a nineteen year career filled with pressure packed moments that certainly have robbed me of some of my youthfulness and my later years, the dedication I have given to this career field and how my coworkers always are cognizant of “what’s at stake”, I could only shake my head in disbelief of what I had read. As I read the errors from the weekend, I noticed a disturbing trend: most, if not all occurred at the busy hub facilities, where controller staffing has been denigrated due to a mass wave of retirements. Air traffic controller staffing has always been a bubble waiting to burst like the housing market. The only thing that kept people around was a good wage and an excellent work environment. As soon as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) froze controller wages and imposed draconian work rules that eroded morale and ruined the workplace, folks were tripping over one another as they headed for the exits. The sad fact is, they were warned.

The redundancy in the system is gone. Thousands of years of experience walked out the door. The system is being held together by the few of us left with experience desperately trying to train people with little to no experience. This is not about a labor dispute or a union crying wolf. This is the reality that I live in every single day. The FAA has continued to tell everyone “everything is ok, we’re hiring controllers. The system is fully staffed.” (I think of Kevin Bacon in one of the final scenes of Animal House. As people are running through the streets near Faber College screaming, He’s standing there with his hands up yelling, “Remain calm!!! All is well!!”)

The truth is they are not hiring controllers; they are hiring people for us to develop into controllers – a process that can take as long as five years. Meanwhile, as Rome burns, people are still exiting in droves. At some facilities, developmentals outnumber controllers. Many other facilities do not have the personnel to train the new hires, so they sit and wait to start their training – some for as long as two years.

A few hours later, we received notification that a key component of the computer system at Boston Center had inexplicably failed. Located in Nashua, NH, Boston Center is responsible for a large chunk of the air traffic in the busy and congested Northeastern United States. The air traffic controllers at Boston Center were in a crisis. Airplanes were put into holding patterns. Traffic that was not airborne was held. The men and women dedicated to keeping you safe snapped into action and worked as a team, as if everything was normal.

All flights at Albany were held on the ground as the problem was sorted out. Since we own airspace up to 10,000 feet (Boston Center owns above that), we were able to route some traffic below Boston’s airspace. A flight to Cleveland, for example, which would typically cruise at 36,000 feet, was held at 10,000 for about 100 miles. Again, whatever it takes.

I’m sure this morning was filled with TELCONs, head scratching and wonderment of what went wrong. I would not want to venture a guess, but I can tell you one thing: in the past year or so, the FAA stopped spending money and labor on routine maintenance and testing of equipment. They adopted a “wait until it breaks” policy with regard to the equipment that we use to keep you safe. It’s a reckless policy and if has anything to do with yesterday’s outage, heads should roll. Quite frankly, heads should roll even if it didn’t!

I’m sure today will start just like yesterday. Put the lunch bag away; exchange some friendly banter with my coworkers. They’ll say, “Man, if I had to be here until 10pm tonight, I’d probably jump off the tower” and I’ll reply, “Well, it’s certainly a good thing your shift is over and the “A” team is here!” All in good fun and all for a good cause. Man, do I love my job!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Politics of Shame

I wanted to follow up on my first blog from way back in May. Since those who fear Barack Obama have chosen to try and lend credibility to a faux report about his religion and schooling, I thought I would post some facts.

The first part comes courtesy of John Kerry's mailing list and the second part from my good union brother from Seattle, Paul Cox.

Here's a link to Paul's blog . He also writes here:

Dear Anthony,

I support Barack Obama because he doesn't seek to perfect the politics of Swiftboating -- he seeks to end it.

This is personal for me, and for a whole lot of Americans who lived through the 2004 election.

As a veteran, it disgusts me that the Swift Boats we loved while we were in uniform on the Mekong Delta have been rendered, in Karl Rove's twisted politics, an ugly verb meaning to lie about someone's character just to win an election. But as someone who cares about winning this election and changing the country I love, I know it's not enough to complain about a past we can't change when our challenge is to win the future -- which is why we must stop the Swiftboating, stop the push-polling, stop the front groups, and stop the email chain smears.

The truth matters, but how you fight the lies matters even more. We must be determined never again to lose any election to a lie.

This year, the attacks are already starting. Some of you may have heard about the disgusting lies about Barack Obama that are being circulated by email. These attacks smear Barack's Christian faith and deep patriotism, and they distort his record of more than two decades of public service. They are nothing short of "Swiftboat" style anonymous attacks.

These are the same tactics the right has used again and again, and as we've learned, these attacks, no matter how bogus, can spread and take root if they go unchecked.

But not this time -- we're fighting back.

And when I say "we," I mean that literally. I know Barack is committed to fighting every smear every time. He'll fight hard and stand up for the truth. But he can't do it alone.

We need you to email the truth to your address books. Print it out and post it at work. Talk to your neighbors. Call your local radio station. Write a letter to the editor. If lies can be spread virally, let's prove to the cynics that the truth can be every bit as persuasive as it is powerful.
The Obama campaign has created a place where you can find the truth you'll need to push back on these smears and a way to spread the truth to all of your address book.

Take action here:

So when your inbox fills up with trash and the emails of smear and fear, find the facts, and help defeat the lies.

Barack Obama is committed to bringing our country together to meet the challenges we face, but he knows that power gives up nothing without a struggle -- and to win the chance to change America, we must first defeat the hateful tactics that have been used to tear us apart for too long.

With your help, we can turn the page on an era of small, divisive politics -- but only if next time you hear these attacks on Barack, you take action immediately:

The fight is just heating up -- we won't let them steal this election with lies and distortions.

Thank you,

John Kerry

From Paul Cox:

The email in question contains lies and distortions. First and foremost, it claims that it checked with "", but you can read's page about the claims of this email for yourself- and you should. The main thrust of this email seems to be that Obama is a Muslim, and Snopes says the email is NOT true:

More important is that you think about religion. Is religion something you are born to, or is it something that adult Americans get to choose for themselves? A long time ago, before getting into politics, Obama chose to be a Christian. His mom was atheist and his father (and stepfather) was Muslim- does that make him an atheist Muslim? Of course not.

In fact, Barack Obama's mom (despite being agnostic/atheist) insisted that he grow up with an understanding and appreciation for ALL religions.

She sent him to schools that had religious teaching (both Muslim and Catholic), and took him to churches and houses of worship of several faiths- Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Shinto, native Hawaiian religion. She felt that he could grow up and decide for himself, which is everyone's right as an American. In that sense, Obama is probably more "American" than many of us are!

Also, pay attention to the way the email distorts things or uses hype and buzzwords. It claims that Obama's father was a "radical", but his father actually had more or less quit practicing as a Muslim and was never a "radical".

When Obama lived in Indonesia, he went to a school that had a lot of Muslim students. This is not a surprise- Indonesia's population is majority Muslim. But he also went to Catholic schools while in Indonesia, which is something the email does not tell us. This is probably because the email wants to make him look bad, don't you think?

CNN visited the school that Obama attended for a few years in Indonesia. Their reporting- actually going out and examining the facts to get the real news- discovered a school that does not focus on religion, with children in western-style clothing. The kids belong to many different religions and the school is a public school, not a violence-preaching "Madrassa".

Finally, the claim that he used a Koran to be sworn into office is an outright lie. There is a black politician who did so, but it wasn't Obama- it was a guy named Keith Ellison, a member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota.

Here is a video of Obama directly addressing some of these claims:

You can choose to vote for whoever you want. I suspect that many of the people who forward the lying email are NOT going to vote for Obama based on politics, not religion. That's fine.
But in America, it is wrong for us to blatantly lie about someone and it's even more wrong to try and win elections based on lies like that. If you don't want to vote for Obama because you don't like his proposals for political problems, that's fine- it's your choice.

All I'm asking is that you not be a part of the mud-slinging, lying, distorting type of politics that hurt our nation. When you see this email, challenge it. Don't forward it along.

And do stop to think for a minute- even if a politician WERE a Muslim, so what? There are millions of Muslims who are good, hardworking Americans. They pay their taxes, send their kids to public schools, love the United States and their freedom to choose religion just like the rest of us, whether we are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or agnostic. The vast majority of Muslims are not the problem; it's only the nutjob terrorists who are ruining things for everyone else.

Thank you for your time."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Goin' To California

I can not help but hear Led Zepplin every time I travel west. "Made up my mind to make a new start, Goin' to California with an achin', in my heart." Since I lived on the West Coast for 10 years which, up until 2004 was the bulk of my adult life, I know exactly what Robert Plant was singing about.

As much as Tucson became my home, I miss and love San Diego every bit as much. The ocean truly does call me and everytime I visit, I know I'll be back for good some day. When I moved back to the great state of New York to be near family, of course people thought we had completely lost our minds. Strangers have the same reaction when we tell them we left California for Upstate New York. The reality is, life is about choices. Sure, the weather is awesome, but it isn't all about the weather and it never has been. The west coast lifestyle appeals to me in a way that transcends the weather.

I returned home on last Wednesday and, as an added joke to the negative wind chill and the snow that seems like it will be here forever, I was stricken with the flu. Since the glass has to be half-full to survive winter in NY, at least I didn't have to go outside for three days!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

To Endorse or Not

I want to clarify that my words are just that - mine. I am not speaking on behalf of any organization that I am a member of nor am I speaking on behalf of my employer.

Our union recently has had discussions as to whether we should be endorsing a candidate for President at all. I will not get into the details of that discussion, but rather try and address the issue generically. As an individual, you decide that you support Vice-President Gore in the 2000 election because his positions and platform most closely align with yours. You also belong to a group of skateboarders. If elected, Vice-President Gore is in favor of lifting the ban on skateboarding. As a matter of fact, as a Senator from Tennessee, VP Gore introduced legislation to allow skateboarding through all public buildings. Unfortunately, he could not conjure up the support to get the legislation passed. However, he was the only individual who stepped out on that limb, even though he was in the minority opinion. Should your skateboarding club endorse him? What if Senators Boxer and Snowe were also candidates who currently serve in the Senate and support you today? Should that make a difference?

There are obviously two clear schools of thought. One is the conservative approach. We do not need to endorse Mr. Gore because there are other skater-friendly candidates out there and whichever one comes out on top, perhaps the skateboarers club will opt to endorse then with all of the other more liberal organizations. On the other hand, the skateboarders could take the lead, become a friend of Mr. Gore now and show that we appreciate what Mr. Gore has done for skateboarders everywhere. We gain a lot of respect for our courage and really lose nothing if he is not the nominee. We simply follow all of the other special interests to the winning candidate.

I am a firm believer in taking measured risks. By sitting on the fence, you are vanilla like everyone else. I remember a story of a school that took sponsorship money from Coca-Cola. (In today's society, some schools have to take money from corporate America to provide better tools for their students. Until this story broke, I wasn't aware of it). This school wanted to thank Coca-Cola for their money, so they asked all of the kids to come to school wearing these shiny new Coca-Cola t-shirts that the company had provided. One of the students thought this was garbage and refused. As a matter of fact, he showed up the following day wearing a new blue Pepsi shirt. The school suspended him for the day.

As a skateboarder, I make the decision to support Mr. Gore. I let it be known to other like minded skateboarders that we are having a virtual meeting to show our support of Mr. Gore. This has nothing to do with my club. It has everything to do with individuals showing support and gathering together in a group identified by their common interest for skate boarding.

Today, I have chosen to wear the Pepsi shirt. I realize I stand to be cast as a loose cannon and not a team player. At this juncture, that's a chance I have to take.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

To Michigan and beyond!

My Union's most recent President, John Carr has written his endorsement of Senator Obama at The Main Bang. John is very well written, widely read and highly respected by many, many people, this writer included. If our Union doesn't get on the Obama train, then we will! Oh, and we'll be bringing hundreds of our friends with us!

It's amazing to watch the media, pollsters, et. al. wring their hands during the New Hampshire Primary. I guess if it were my job to predict the outcome of an election and the result was tantamount to "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN", I'd be looking for answers too. It showed me how out of touch the media is with the American public and reality, but that's another story. Figures lie and liars figure and the fact remains that any sampling done before the ballots are cast is a wag. Sure, they get it right more often than not. It sure is fun to watch them squirm and spin when they get one wrong.

My personal opinion? Senator Clinton has widespread support of women over 40. This was a fact in Iowa and held true in New Hampshire. Many older women, like my Mother and Mother-in-law, refuse to disclose their vote to anyone, especially pollsters. This especially holds true in New England, where my wife's family is from. So congratulations to all of the New England Mothers and Grandmothers out there! You pulled the January surprise on the country!

Here are some numbers that are not only good for Senator Obama, but for the Democrats and the country (SOURCE: MSNBC)

  • 18% of the voters were in the 18-29 crowd, up from 14% four years ago. They overwhelmingly supported Senator Obama again. In the 18-24 group (11% of the voters), Obama garnered 60% of the vote.

  • 287,000 people voted in the Democratic Primary (57% of all voters), up from 218,000 in 2004 and 147,798 in 2000. 218000 voted in the Republican Primary, down from 237,000 (61% of voters) in 2000. This is significant, because Independent voters makeup 37% of the population of NH and 38% are registered Republicans. Clearly the Independent vote broke for the Democrats and for Obama.

  • 505,000 people voted last night in New Hampshire up from 385,000 in 2000 (the last election without an incumbent on either side).

  • New Hampshire is not a winner-take-all proposition. The delgates will be split at least three ways, with a bulk being divided almost equally between Senators Obama and Clinton.

NEXT UP: Michigan Primary, January 15th, zero delegates*

ON DECK: Nevada Caucus, January 19th, 30 delegates.

IN THE HOLE: South Carolina, January 26th, 54 delegates.

LOOKING AHEAD: 25 days until Super Tuesday (Feb. 5th) where 2075 delegates will be awarded. New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey and Massachusetts hold primaries.

*Note: Michigan and Florida moved their primaries ahead of Super Tuesday without approval from the DNC and were stripped of their delegates.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I have been ready for a change in direction since January 20, 2001. To tell you the truth, as soon as the votes were not counted in November 2000, I was ready. No one, including me could have been prepared for the rollercoaster we've ridden since then.

Organized labor has been in the crosshairs of corporate America with this administration happily leading the charge. We were no exception. This President put together the most anti-worker, anti-union, anti-flying public and anti-American group they could find to break our union, to steal out wages and steal the pride we have in our profession. They ushered many of my brothers and sisters to the door, firing many and forcing others into early retirement.

Today, the safety of the flying public hinges on the next occupant of the White House. Senator Barack Obama stood up for us like no other politician did. While he certainly wasn't the only politician to step up, he was our champion. During the 109th Congress, Senator Obama introduced S 2201 Federal Aviation Administration Fair Labor Management Dispute Resolution Act of 2006. He spoke passionately about us, the safety of the flying public and the sacred process of labor-management relations. He talked about giving the us a fair chance. He took our case to the White House on our behalf.

While others are friends of ours, Senator Barack Obama is a brother. Senator Obama gets it like few others do, and we need him as our next President. Friends and family, brothers and sisters, Senator Barack Obama is the right person to bring forth the change in direction this country needs. It is with great pride that I proudly endorses Senator Barack Obama for the office of President of the United States!! Now let's get down to the business of getting the good Senator elected!