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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Grassroots: Power in Numbers

This is an absolutely amazing video! Over 1000 college students from Prairie View College in Texas wanted to vote during the early voting period in the primary, which ends on February 29th. Most colleges have a polling location on site. Prairie View does not.

Instead of being deterred, these students conducted a march to the nearest polling location - over SEVEN MILES AWAY - where they waited for tweleve hours to vote.

This is the power of the people. It gives me a renewed sense of home in this country and the upcoming generation.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Don’t Let The Door Hit You . . .

Those of you who are intimately familiar with the FAA's game of the past several years realizes that this agency has become a broken record of accusations and empty rhetoric. Never have I seen an entire workforce publically devalued and demoralized as this FAA has done to the nation's air traffic controllers.

Their game is simple: win the public relations war and they can ignore the controllers all together. Their latest tactic is to claim that the controllers union is trying to scare the American flying public into believing the FAA has created a mess even FEMA would shudder at. Apparently, the United States Congress has seen ample evidence from those pesky air traffic controllers to convince them that we are on the absolute wrong track. When we are staffing the air traffic control system to budget rather than needs, it is very obvious that something is awry.

I've got news for you sunshine, any labor organization worth its salt doesn't cry wolf just because they got a raw deal in contract negotiations. NATCA is no different. I have been a leader in this union for nearly 20 years and we have credibility because we don't haul out the safety card unless something is gravely askew. Make no mistake, this agency ignored hundreds of years of labor history when they rammed what they call a contract down the throats of this nation's air traffic controllers. History has shown and will continue to show that their reckless strong arm tactics at the negotiating table began the dismantling of the nation's aviation system and drove air traffic controllers for the exits. The dispute relates to the safety issues in that the former created the latter. FAA imposes work rules, controllers leave in droves, FAA fiddles a little, more controllers leave, FAA decides to ramp up hiring, controllers work six-day weeks, more controllers leave – you get the picture. Furthermore, the FAA continues to ignore their obligation to negotiate and involve the union in matter impacting working conditions to the detriment of the flying public.

It is well documented that the FAA has been trying to stick a piece of gum in the breach of this dyke of congestion by redesigning the airspace on the Eastern seaboard. Travel delays that begin in the Northeast dovetail throughout the system and can create an absolute mess. Weather delays are largely unavoidable, so we'll set that aside. What we're talking about is capacity delays. No redesign of airspace is going to fix an issue of capacity. Controllers, concrete and scheduling fix capacity issues.

The fewer eyes we have on the sky, the less airplanes we can handle. It's that simple. You're at the Piggly Wiggly and there are twenty people ahead of you in line. If they open another checkout lane, ten people move over there and they get out twice as fast. You have one controller working a sector that covers a radius of 50 miles around an airport, where 20 airplanes are trying to land. If another controller plugs in and takes half of the airspace and airplanes, the job gets done more efficiently – to a point. You still need to build the additional check-out lane. You can have 20 controllers, each with one airplane and still not increase capacity. The constant in this equation is how long it takes each airplane to touch down, slow down and exit the runway. It cannot be changed. Without pouring more concrete, the only immediate fix is smarter scheduling. The airlines argue that they fly when the people want to fly. If you ask the flying public if they'd rather get from DC to New York in three hours or leave a half-hour earlier and get there in one, the most certainly would opt for the shorter flight.

I won't argue that the airspace in the Northeast isn't congested – it most certainly is. We recognize the need to alter the airspace to increase efficiency – just do it the right way, with the subject matter experts at the table. The FAA has opted to go it alone and the controllers are speaking up. We are the ones who work the airplanes through the system day in and day out. We are the subject matter experts and we have been cut out of the process of redesigning the airspace in the Northeast. How does the FAA answer to these charges? (The full article can be found here).

"The union is dissatisfied with its contract that the FAA implemented in September 2006. They're playing the safety card, which is outrageous," said Peters. "If any controller at the Philadelphia Airport believes that these procedures are unsafe, they should look for work elsewhere.

"These procedures are put in place to ensure that the crews and passengers will arrive safely at the Philadelphia Airport. The controllers are there to ensure the planes get down safe. If they don't like working for FAA, they should reconsider their line of work."

Oh, ok. If you don't like it, leave. This is a wonderful way to treat those who are charged with keeping you safe day in and day out. Rather than do the right thing and involved the experts who work the system every single day, we'll ram this down your throat, ignore your concerns and tell you "if you don't like it, get the hell out". This is how they want to treat whistleblowers. We all know what happens when you try and quell dissent against an unsafe plan or procedure, and this is no exception. This is quickly becoming the FAA's "O-ring". The FAA is treating the controller's union just like NASA and the bosses at Morton Thiokol treated the engineers.

One final note: If NATCA were powerful enough that every representative at every facility walked lock-step with the leadership and made the same accusations in the media that you are accustomed to seeing day in and day out, we never would have been in this predicament because the FAA would never have been able to dismantle the system in the manner that they have. We all wish NATCA were that strong and unified. The fact is each individual representative from Seattle to Philadelphia and everywhere in between is taking their turn telling their story to the American people – not an empty suit in a cubicle reading from cue cards – these are working men and women telling you their story, not out of fear of their union, rather for fear of what might happen if they don't speak up.


 

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Inevitable?

Benjamin Franklin once said, in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes. Sure, the absence of my musings here could have been attributed to the former. Actually, it was mostly due to the latter, and I am happy to report that my taxes are done. There doesn't seem to be any certainty in the Democratic nomination process, although one candidate has built some incredible momentum.

Tuesday's resounding victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii appeared to have given Senator Obama unstoppable momentum heading into the March 4th primaries in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island. He has now won 10 contests in a row, winning Wisconsin by 17-points, his smallest margin of victory yet. I certainly would never count Senator Clinton out until one candidate reaches the magic number or until she says she's out, but it will be an uphill climb for her.

The Clinton campaign has acknowledged that Texas and/or Ohio are must wins. The pundits believe that she must win big in both places to continue on, and the numbers show that the Senator from New York nees to win 55% of all remaining delegates to be the nominee.

Wisconsin was another state that Senator Obama won where traditionally, the demographics favored Senator Clinton. Exit polling showed every age group, except those over 65, voting for Obama. All women split 50/50 between the candidates, a huge shift. Poll data shows Latino voters shifting with the momentum as well, which could spell trouble in Texas for Clinton. The other "x-factor" in Texas is Republicans. With Senator McCain the presumptive nominee, will Republicans show up at the open Democratic primary to vote for Senator Obama? In Wisconsin, Republicans made up 10% of the voters and 75% of them voted for Senator Obama.

In the mean time, look for more negative advertising from the Clinton campaign, as desperate times call for desperate measures. Let's hope this process ends in the near term so we can unify behind the labor friendly candidate and get on with the process of healing this great country of ours.

In case you're still on the fence or concerned about the Senator's experience, here is Barack Obama's Blueprint for Change.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Safety for Sale

Ever since I've been active in NATCA, the air traffic controllers union, there have been whispers that the outsourcing our jobs was inevitable. The Reason Foundation is a conservative think-tank that has been leading the charge to outsource the safety of the flying public to the lowest bidder. No one can argue the fact that this administration has run the FAA into the ground and it cannot continue to be managed in this fashion. Interestingly enough, the Reason Foundation's founder and transportation "specialist", Robert Poole was a Bush campaign adviser and present during the White House transition, a fact that cannot be lost as we seek out the means to pull the FAA out of the hole it's been digging. Privatization is certainly not the answer. Nor are any of the buzzwords, such as public-private partnership, managed competition, outsourcing or corporatization.

On February 1, 2005, FAA awarded a 5-year fixed-price, incentive-fee contract (with 5 additional option years) to Lockheed Martin to operate the Agency's flight service stations in the continental United States, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. On October 4, 2005, Lockheed Martin took over operations at the 58 flight service stations, and, on that date, approximately 1,900 specialists and additional support staff became employees of Lockheed Martin (DOT IG Report, October 2007). Lockheed Martin completed the agreed upon two-year transition period this past October. To date, LM has consolidated operations to three hub facilities and 15 stand-alone facilities.

Flight service stations provide general aviation pilots with aeronautical information such as pre- and in-flight weather briefings, flight planning assistance, and aeronautical notices (e.g., runway closures or temporary flight restrictions). In addition, while employees at flight service stations do not control air traffic, they can provide in-flight support to pilots who are lost or in need of assistance. Flight services are provided at no charge to users and are intended to help promote safe flight operations. However, most of the services provided are optional for pilots' use. Pilots may also obtain flight information using online services such as Direct User Access Terminal Service (known as DUATS), an automatic weather briefing and flight plan processing service that allows pilots to obtain weather data and file flight plans via personal computer.

The contractor gets paid by the Government to provide this service. The Government saves money because they pay the contractor less than it cost them to provide the same service. The contractor makes money by slashing personnel, compensation and benefits costs by lowering wages and consolidating services; bad bets for the flying public. Pilots and controllers have reported a significant drop off in service since October 2005. Long wait times, unfamiliar specialists, incomplete briefings and lost flight plans are the norm. I have personally some of the above. Just last week, I received closure information for an airport well outside of my airspace. This has never happened prior to the outsourcing. I've had numerous pilots call for flight plans that they claimed to have filed with flight service and were nowhere to be found. My peers have experienced aircraft that were issued clearances through flight service, were given instructions to "hold for release" because traffic was inbound to the same airport, only to have the aircraft depart!

An incident similar to the last one happened recently at a small uncontrolled field in North Carolina. The air traffic controller received a call from on flight service specialist in Raleigh Durham for a clearance on a Cessna (slow airplane). The controller could not issue the clearance at the time and had to call back. When he did so, apparently the understaffed station in Raleigh could not handled the call and it was rerouted to Leesburg, VA. The specialist in Leesburg knew nothing about this aircraft, but being the dutiful employee, took the clearance and went looking for the pilot to relay it to. When she could not locate the pilot, she called the controller back, who promptly cancelled the clearance. Moments later, the Raleigh specialist calls back with a second clearance request for a Lear jet (fast airplane). The controller issues the clearance and a release for the Lear. The flight service specialist asks, "What about the Cessna". After the controller explains how the clearance was issued but then cancelled, the flight service specialist responds, "I just issued the clearance – he should be rolling!!" The controller swiftly cancels the clearance for the Lear jet. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

This is a small airport with no air traffic controllers. The only way to release aircraft is one at a time (one in, one out as we say "in the business"), because we cannot be assured as to where the first aircraft is until we have them displayed on our radar and are in radio contact with them. Once they are safely in "radar contact" and we can move them out of the way, we release the following departure. In the case I described above, the air traffic controller saved a situation that was clearly headed for disaster. The mid-air collision that quite possibly would have occurred is squarely a result of the breakdown in communications due to a system overstressed by a greedy contractor and due to the outsourcing of a safety related function that is inherently governmental.

In 2005, Phil Boyer, head of AOPA and 65% of his membership supported the privatization of flight service stations, just so long as user fees were kept off the table. I wonder how those people feel about their vote today. I'm sure they are happy that flight services are free, but in corporate America, you get what you pay for. I wonder how long it takes before LM decides it's cheaper to operate a flight service call center in India or Iraq?

The FAA is on record calling this the safest five-year period in aviation history. Smoke and mirrors and the lack of a major catastrophe do not necessarily make this a safe era in aviation history, let alone the safest.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Show Me the Money

I wanted to share this website - Fund Race - where you can search by name, zip code, occupation and employer to see who has given what in the current Presidential election.

In what is shaping up to be the most expensive Presidential campaign in history, each Democratic candidate has raised over $100 million during the primary season. The Obama campaign raised $32 million in January compared to $13.5 million for the Clinton campaign. Since the February 5th Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, Senator Obama has raised $7.5 million and has swept the primaries and caucuses in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, the Virgin Islands and Maine.

Tomorrow is the Potomac Primaries, where voters in Maryland, DC and Virginia head to the polls. 237 total delegates are at stake. The candidates are in a near dead-heat, with Obama leading in delegates pledged through the primary process and Clinton leading in Superdelegates.

I think the New York Times Election Guide has the easiest snapshot of the primaries.

Ok citizens of Maryland, DC and Virginia - your time has come. Let your voices be heard!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Unionism

I have been thinking a lot this week about the word "unionism". Two separate and distinct events have left me pondering this and before I get into those, I wanted to share a thought that my Brother Tom Thompson from Indianapolis Center posted on our union's BBS:


Not a Spectator Sport

'Unions are far more than a kind of employment insurance policy for working people. Plenty of union members and union officials have learned the hard way that when workers come to think of their union as a business that provides service rather than a group of people banding together to fight for common interests, the union quickly loses the clout and credibility needed to defend and advance the members' interests. When an employer looks and sees only a small handful of paid union staff or elected union leaders, and no one standing behind them, pretty soon the employer starts thinking that "the union" isn't really much to contend with. And the truth is, that's right.'


That gives us a good jumping off point for the discussion. I was asked to assist by dear friend and Brother Bob Butterworth in drafting a paper on unionism. Writing is a daunting enough task, let alone putting into words what unionism is and having to help someone who has forgotten more about unionism than I'll ever know and someone who embodies the true definition of the word. Most people can tell you what unionism isn't, but what is it – what makes someone a "union man or woman"?

It starts with selflessness, when you recognize that the good of the many outweigh the good of the few or the one (my apologies to Leonard Nimoy) – and when you not only realize that, but your actions show it as well. Workers become selfish when it comes to money and time off (which translates to seniority). This is not meant to point fingers, but simply a statement of fact from observation and from human nature.


Most recently, the FAA gave their performance reviews and handed out their blood money. Again, not a slam at anyone who rated high enough to attain a .6 or 1.8% bonus or on those who received nothing. The fact is, some did, some didn't, some were deserving others were not and the entire system is foxtrotted. That goes without saying and is immaterial to this discussion. Where unionism comes into play is how people reacted to the news that they received nothing and others received something.


At my own facility, I heard people drawing comparisons to themselves and others. Rather than attack the entire premise of a performance system based upon duties outside of keeping airplanes from swapping paint, many bemoaned the fact that they didn't get more, or so and so got some and wasn't deserving. Those who act in the true spirit of unionism were those who took the money and gave it away, to charity, to their coworkers who made less than them or to throw a wild party. I'm not saying keeping the money is wrong, I'm simply delineating from those who griped about what they got versus the other spectrum – those who recognized that the system is a mess and they used the money to make others happy.


Seniority is another topic that is near and dear to our hearts. NATCA recently organized the remaining FAA flight service stations. I want to take a moment and welcome our newest NATCA Brothers and Sisters to the fold! For those who do not know the details of the FSS outsourcing, the short story is the government awarded a contract to Lockheed-Martin in 2005 to take over the flight service stations, with the exception of those in Alaska. The details aren't germane to this topic, so I will leave you to Google for the story. Organizing new employees under NATCA's banner always brings about the issue of seniority, since many of the bargaining units that NATCA has organized contain members who have spent time in the air traffic controller bargaining unit, or vice-versa. The FSS controllers are no exception.


A discussion has ensued on NATCA's private BBS about the impact the organizing of the FSS controllers will have on individual seniority. As I stated, this is one of the "me" issues and I cannot blame an individual for feeling that way. Many of us have waiting 15 or 20 years to have a particular set of days off of time off in the summer with their families. Nevertheless, we should be looking at seniority from a perspective of what is fair for the majority or for the collective, rather than the individual. It really doesn't have to be a selfish issue, if everyone were to give a little. Perhaps my own opinion isn't that of a "unionist" either. I have long held that each bargaining unit should have their own seniority based solely upon time spent in that unit and nothing else. That certainly isn't an inclusive idea; rather it is an initiative to give the policy the only common denominator that we all share. It still doesn't rectify the fact that my proposal is prejudiced against new bargaining units.


Which brings me to the second issue that has me thinking about unionism. I returned to work on Monday after a week in Washington, doing the work of the union. I loved being there with the 400 activists on Capitol Hill and at our National HQ Thursday and Friday watching our elected leaders and staff in action. I also loved seeing my friends, whom I see all too infrequently. The first thing that caught my eye was the NATCA bulletin board. The fact is, rather than a fount of information for my members, it had become a vast wasteland of month-old Dilbert cartoons and an occasional press release or letter from Congress. About once a week, one of my members posts personal commentary on FAA. It's not too scathing, but apparently it was enough to get a reaction from an anonymous individual. This "person" called out me Brother for expressing himself. Two days after I removed it from the board, a photocopy appeared with the following note:


RM, In case you didn't get a chance to see the strip I put on the board, here it is. I happen to like working in ALB. If you don't, do us all a favor and leave. With your skills I'm sure Burger King would love to hire you.


You're a Pathetic Little Man

Of course, this gutless individual didn't sign their art work and the manager doesn't want to get involved in a "spat" between two controllers, even though this was an unprovoked and anonymous drive-by shooting by a coworker. Regardless of who did this, it certainly doesn't embody unionism. It was a selfish, gutless, classless and low-rent act. What followed were several acts of unionism. Members stood by the individual and his right to express his viewpoints. One member even typed his own note to the "offender" and posted it on the bulletin board. The entire incident shook the workforce at its core, but caused people to rally around the victim and we came out the other side because of our unionism.

I don't have all of the answers about unionism, nor do I always embody the spirit of unionism – but I do my best. We all need to do our best and pass along these lessons to the future generation.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Numb3rs

I want to thank everyone for their kind words and for your support of my efforts here. Yesterday, 365 people hit the Yaz's blog, a record. Sure, I'm not in the stratosphere like The Main Bang or Get the Flick – perhaps someday. (Maybe if I keep shamelessly plugging their blogs, I can get a link and ride their coattails!)

You need to bookmark Paul Williams' YouTube page, especially if you're into aviation. Paul has been an activist in NATCA since before I was hired and continues to do an awesome job collecting media clips – video and audio – concerning ATC. His collection includes news reports, interviews and Congressional hearings.

Paul also gave me this gem: "Since October 2006 controllers have been retiring at a rate of 1 every 9 hours." Every time a shift ends, a controller hangs up his or her headset for good. Another great find I have to attribute to Paul – from the FAA's own 10-Year Strategy for the Air Traffic Control Workforce (June 2006) (page 67), "If the FAA is not able to adequately staff its air traffic control facilities, the system response will be observed in the area of system capacity – not system safety ... inadequate staffing levels will result in air traffic control system delays and delays in training." Hmm. I wonder what has changed in the past eighteen months that they now have their hired guns screaming from the rooftops that delays are not being caused by staffing.

Along those lines, a fellow controller at one of the world's busiest approach controls and certainly the most complex in the history of the planet said recently, "I've sat there inundated with airplanes. There are no controllers to provide assistance, so we put the planes into holding. This is clearly delaying air traffic due to staffing. The FAA logs these delays as "volume". It's like driving your car without oil and saying it broke down because you drove it too much.

The Department of Transportation's Inspector General is concerned. Here is an excerpt from testimony on Thursday before The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Aviation:

Addressing Controller Attrition and Training: The long-expected surge in controller attrition has begun. Since 2005, 3,300 controllers have left the Agency. The total rate of attrition was 23 percent higher than FAA had projected. However, FAA has accelerated its hiring efforts to fill vacancies. Since 2005, FAA has hired 3,450 new controllers-25 percent more than projected. Still, FAA faces a major challenge as it must hire and train 15,000 new controllers through 2016.

As a result of the high level of controller attrition, FAA is facing a fundamental transformation in the composition of its controller workforce. The overall percentage of controllers in training has grown substantially over the past 3 years. From April 2004 to September 2007, the overall size of the controller workforce remained constant. However, during the same period, the number of controllers in training increased by 1,177, or 53 percent, while the total number of fully certified, or Certified Professional Controllers (CPC), decreased by the same amount. New controllers now represent 23 percent of the workforce (up from 15 percent in 2004). However, that percentage can vary extensively by location-from as little as 2 percent (e.g., Boston TRACON) to as much as 50 percent (e.g., Las Vegas TRACON).

A major challenge in addressing the attrition surge will be to train new controllers to the CPC level at their assigned locations. Facility training can take up to 3 years and is the most expensive part of new controller training. Training new controllers to the CPC level is important for two reasons: (l) only CPCs are qualified to control traffic at all positions of their assigned area and (2) only CPCs certified for at least 6 months (at their assigned location) can become on-the-job training (OIT) instructors for other new controllers. FAA must have enough OIT instructors at all locations if it is to achieve its ambitious hiring and training plans for the next 8 years and beyond.

It is important to note that new controllers who have completed portions of training and have been certified on a position can independently staff that position. However, controllers are not qualified CPCs until they have certified on all positions within their assigned area. In addition, using position-qualified controllers extensively to staff positions can lengthen the time required for them to become CPCs since they are not training on other new positions.

During our review, facility managers, training managers, and even Headquarters officials were unable to tell us who or what office was responsible for facility training. FAA needs to clarify responsibility for oversight and direction of the facility training program at the national level and communicate those roles to facility managers.

In addition, FAA has not comprehensively evaluated its facility training program. In its 2004 Controller Workforce Plan, FAA stated it would "conduct a thorough review of facility training to ensure it begins where the Academy ends. This review will take into consideration other efficiency gains identified in this plan and will result in facility training programs tailored to meet the needs of developmental controllers of the future." FAA intended for this effort to help reduce the time it takes new controllers to become CPCs. However, FAA never conducted the evaluation. FAA must follow through with this evaluation and its Controller Workforce Plan initiatives.

FAA plans to increase the number of developmental controllers to over 30 percent of the total controller workforce. This would be the highest percentage of developmental controllers in the past 15 years. In its Controller Workforce Plan, FAA estimates that the controller workforce at each facility can comprise up to 35 percent in developmental controllers and still maintain operations and training.

FAA also estimates that if facilities exceed that amount, training times would significantly increase because the number of developmental controllers would surpass available training capacity. However, we found that many facilities already meet or exceed the 35-percent level. As of September 2007, 61 facilities nationwide (nearly 20 percent of all FAA air traffic control facilities) exceeded that level, compared to just 22 in April 2004. This represents a 177-percent increase in just 3 years. For example, as of September 2007:

• Miami Center had 195 CPCs and 108 developmental controllers (36 percent developmental).

• Oakland Center had 164 CPCs and 100 developmental controllers (38 percent developmental).

• Las Vegas TRACON had 23 CPCs and 23 developmental controllers (50 percent developmental).

Most facility managers, training officers, and union officials we spoke with disagreed with FAA's estimate of an acceptable level of developmental controllers. They stated that, in order to achieve effective controller training while maintaining daily operations, the maximum percentage of developmental controllers should be limited to between 20 percent and 25 percent of a facility's total controller workforce.

The difference between these estimates and FAA's maximum percentage is disconcerting, particularly since 61 facilities already exceed the FAA limit. A significant issue is that FAA's 35-percent estimate was originally intended to determine how many developmental controllers could be processed through the FAA Academy-not how many new controllers that could be trained at individual facilities. However, it appears FAA is now using that percentage as a benchmark for all facilities.

Anyone still want to tell us it's all a labor dispute?

One last thing: The FAA has decided to help us manage our fatigue in facilities in the DC area – by stocking the vending machines with this little gem. I'm sure it's harmless, so nothing to worry about feeding these to air traffic controllers:

Epinions: "Took a bottle of this 10 minutes before a rugby match. After the rugby match I ended up in the medical tent for 3 hours trying to get my Blood Pressure and my heart rate down. I'd suggest caution if taking this while exercising, while out in the sun, or while you think you might be dehydrated."

Actually, it is pretty innocuous. It is basically a mega-dose of Vitamins B6 (2000%) and B12 (8333%). Too much B12 can cause neurological disorders, but one would have to drink six of these daily over a long period of time. It just amazes me that this agency has a hissy fit over controllers taking ibuprofen and ginseng but thinks nothing of peddling energy drinks.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Math is Hard!!

The toughest thing about writing is coming up with a catchy title every day I decide to write a new article. You have to read today's title with the whiny voice inflection of a teenage girl and picture how she stomps her foot when she says it. Make sure and use those exclamation points. It'll help you see the sarcastic wit I was trying for when I chose "math is hard!!" as the title.

You see my friends, aside from being an air traffic controller, I am also a 39 year old college student. I had my one experience at college in the fall of 1986. It involved beer, vodka, companionship and - hmm – what are all these rooms with chairs for? Needless to say a 0.64 GPA was not going to get me into Harvard Law let alone Spencer Hill Institute of Technology. 20 years later, I enrolled at the National Labor College and I'm on the brink of graduating with a degree in Labor Studies, Labor Education and Union Administration. I have a few more hurdles to clear, one of which was passing a college level algebra CLEP exam. Yesterday, I went to Schenectady Community College, had a flashback that would have made a deadhead say, "wow, what a trip!" and squeaked out a passing grade.

Yes, math is hard. Apparently, it's even difficult for the acting administrator of the FAA….or as I like to call him, "the former assistant to the assistant administrator", Bobby Sturgell. People who watch The Office will get that – everyone else, you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's funny. Yesterday, I wrote about the beating Mr. Sturgell took at the hands of the United States Senate. Apparently, the Commerce Committee is not impressed with a Government official who is as long on rhetoric and manure as he is on longevity. Mind you there is a distinct difference between experience and longevity. Generally, the two are not mutually exclusive. They certainly are in this case.

We read yesterday that Senators Lautenberg, Boxer, McCaskill and Menendez are concerned with Mr. Stugell's lack of math skills. The acting administrator cannot come to grips that when you add airplanes, subtract controllers and morale, multiply by overtime and divide the workforce the result is fatigued controllers, delays and a dangerous situation for the flying public.

Congressman Mica agrees: "We are courting disaster and a further national aviation system meltdown without a confirmed FAA Administrator." I could not agree more, Congressman…but not this man. I'm glad to see you are seeing the same meltdown that we are. Recognize that the man with his hand on the rudder of this ship has steered it over the falls. Seriously, I know they serve Kool Aid with the hash-laced muffins over at 800 Independence. Just say no. Here are the facts, unfettered by Kool Aid and psychedelic drugs:

Total fully trained, certified professional controllers (CPCs):

September 30, 2001: 12,580

September 30, 2002: 12,801

September 30, 2003: 12,720

September 30, 2004: 12,585

September 30, 2005: 12,215

September 30, 2006: 12,170

September 30, 2007: 11,256

January 5, 2008: 11,077

* this is the LOWEST total we have seen in over 15 years. On Sept. 30, 1992, there were 10,696 CPCs on board in the FAA

Total developmental air traffic controllers (otherwise known as CPCs in training):

December 2005: 1,062

September 30, 2006: 3,618

January 5, 2008: 3,484 (add to that 260 new hires at the Oklahoma City FAA Academy and the total is 3,744)

*NOTE: 1,619 of these trainees have NOT completed the first of four FAA training stages


Total attrition:

In Fiscal Year 2007, FAA projected 1,197 total attrition. But actual total attrition was 1,622 controllers and trainees (includes retirements, deaths, firings, promotions to supervisors, transfers to other FAA jobs and resignations). That worked out to be an average of 4.4 controllers leaving the workforce each day. So far, through the first three months and five days of the 2008 fiscal year (our data is "as of Jan. 5, 2008"), total attrition is 603 (including 316 retirements and 93 resignations), which is 6.2 per day.

Of the 911 FY07 retirements, we found only 16 who reached the age 56 mandatory age.

Of the 911 FY07 retirements, we found that 404 retired within one year of their retirement eligibility date. This is DOUBLE the number, as a percentage, in the previous two fiscal years. FAA's March 2007 controller workforce plan, on page 21, says that in FY05 and FY06 combined, only 24 percent of total retirees left within one year of retirement eligibility date.


Total attrition in FY08 thus far:

603 (as of Jan. 5, 2008)

316 retirements (only eight of these retired because they reached the mandatory age of 56)

93 resignations

1 death

62 "removals" (fired or failed training and no longer in FAA)

131 promotions or transfers out of the controller workforce, most to an FAA supervisory position


With attrition at 6.2 controllers per day, we are on track to see 2,269 total attrition by end of this fiscal year. FAA projection for total FY08 attrition is 1,276 (including 695 retirements), which was rebaselined in March 2007 from earlier projection.


In FY07, total attrition was 1,622. FAA projection (rebaselined) was 1,197. There were 202 resignations in FY07. So far in FY08 (only three months in), there have been 93 resignations. I was hired in the wave of 1989, once the Agency realized that they could not replace 11,000 fired controllers with 7000 (or whatever the number they chose was). We are working with the lowest number of certified professional controllers since 1992. I was one of the 10,696 certified professional controllers in 1992 and guess what? I had less than one year of experience.

History shows that when faced with a similar situation in 1992, this same FAA rushed controllers through training, stuffed the busiest facilities with zero experience controllers, worked with less than adequate staffing causing controllers to take on too much responsibility and people died. Look at my friend and Brother Don Brown's blog for some information about the LAX accident of 1991. Do you see a correlation? Similar numbers of CPCs, similar actions by the FAA and people died, including an air traffic controller.

The sad thing is, when we aren't working we're sitting and watching, helplessly waiting for the news report. As another Brother of mine surmised last week, "The FAA already has the press release written for the first accident. The law of averages indicates that there will be a catastrophe in aviation and this Agency will likely chalk it up to that. What I wonder is how they will explain the second and third accident, and how many more will it take before the FAA and Congress finally do something? To quote our good friend Ed Schultz, "What is it going to take, a high profile politician losing their life in an aviation accident for Congress to act?"

Sadly, they don't call the FAA "The Tombstone Agency" for nothing and Big Ed knows that. He knows that it will take a catastrophe before the FAA is forced to act. It's been that way since Archie League's time. This isn't a game folks and it isn't about money, labor strife, controller demands or any other sorry excuse the FAA comes up with for not answering to the charges that they are playing Russian roulette with your lives. Ed Schultz knows it. Congress knows it. My brothers and sisters know it. Hell, the FAA knows it but, as I said, they cannot seek help until they are willing to admit they have a problem. I want you to know it, be angry about it and demand action. Contact your Senator today. Ask them to protect you and family by passing S1300.



Thursday, February 7, 2008

Like a Rented Goalie

Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell was welcomed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. As is customary, Mr. Sturgell gave an opening statement. Then, he was beaten like a rented goalie. I really didn't want trouble with PETA, so I went with Keith Olbermann's variation on a theme from back in his Sportscenter days.

To be fair, the Acting Administrator never had a chance to truncate the former part of his title. NATCA members, their Department of Government Affairs and the legislative committee had worked tirelessly to make sure that the Senate had all of the information prior to this hearing. Personally, I have been telling Senator Schumer's office for months that Mr. Bobby Sturgell is directly responsible for the dismantling of the aviation system in the United States.

Sturgell touts the safest five-year period in aviation history. Let me tell you, it is the will and skill of the controllers and pilots that are keeping airplanes from swapping paint. No one likes to admit there is a problem or that they don't have the tools to do their job. Mr. Sturgell and his band of minions are like a group of drug addicts hanging out on the street corner looking for more dope. The worse their addiction gets, the less apt they are to admit they have a problem. Face it Mr. Sturgell: We know you have a problem; the America people know you have a problem and the United States Congress knows you have a problem. The sooner you admit it, the sooner we can get you help. That's my new slogan: put down the pipe, we're here to help you.

This doesn't have to be this way. You could have walked in day one and changed everything. You had ample opportunity to reverse the jailhouse rules your predecessor imposed on my workforce. You could have given the new kids more money. Singlehandedly, you could have stemmed the wave of retirements, turned this ship north and you would have been greeted by a hero's welcome at every FAA facility and, I dare say at the Senate Thursday morning. Instead, your workforce hates you, they hate what you stand for and you left Capitol Hill on Thursday, dead man walking, hat-in hand – and your head still in it. I'm sure you'll wake up today and wonder where it all went wrong. I hope you read this – we're here to help.

In case you missed it, here are some of the highlights, courtesy of NATCA Media Director and former sports writer Doug Church. He's a great guy for a Red Sox fan! (Man, that's two Red Sox fans that I admire!)


 

Sen. Lautenberg: "As the FAA deputy administrator the past five years, Sturgell has overseen misguided policies. Our nation's air traffic controllers are overworked and understaffed and FAA refuses to negotiate in good faith. 60 hour work weeks are not uncommon in retail and manufacturing but that is far above standard for ATC. In addition, FAA allows dangerous and unnecessary safety risks on our runways and that is confirmed by GAO report recently. Quick actions of controllers and pilots are the only things that sometimes prevent catastrophic collisions. Bush Administration failures have led to one of worst years for flight delays ever. FAA is forcing hundreds of thousands of residents in NY/NJ to deal with more jet noise as it reroutes flights; result is decreased quality of life. I regret to say I do not believe President Bush's choice for FAA administrator is the right choice. This view is held by many Senators."

Sen. McCaskill: "I have a horrible fear that something dramatic and tragic is going to happen. And I have a sense of urgency about this and I would like to give you a minute to try and tell us what sense of urgency you have."

Sen. Boxer: "What does FAA consider appropriate work schedule for controllers? So you think 10 hrs a day, six days a week will lead us to safe skies? What we just heard is that Mr. Sturgell believes that a six-day week, 10 hrs a day is a fair work schedule for our controllers. You stand by that? GAO reported that 20 percent of controllers at 20 facilities working that long week. Is that acceptable?"

Senator Lautenberg: "The lack of an agreement has led to a mass exodus of controllers. Are you listening to employees at the bargaining table?" (Sturgell, "We're working on improving our relations") Senator: "If you are working to improve it, it must have been deficient in the past."


 

The nominee was asked about controller fatigue and he blamed the controllers. Mr. Sturgell told the Senate that controllers are responsible for managing their off time, to report for work ready for duty. He said they are working on mandatory training for managing fatigue.

Here's the decoder ring: six-day weeks, ten-hour days, mandatory overtime, discipline for "exhibiting a sleep-like pattern" while at work (not while working airplanes – while on the clock even on a break) and sick leave is not appropriate for fatigue. Factor in that most facilities are working so short that they'd have to work overtime just to get briefed on managing fatigue that we would not have if the FAA would properly staff their facilities. I have more, but I'm too tired to go on.

The nominee was asked about overtime at FAA facilities, about six-day weeks, ten-hour days. Mr. Sturgell responded that large numbers of controllers volunteer for overtime. He stated that they are working on improving staffing at two dozen facilities.

First off, no one is lining up for six-day weeks, ten hour days. At those facilities, that is mandatory and assigned by the employer. The employees have no choice. At other places like Albany, controllers have been burnt out for a year on working overtime. The only people on the volunteer list for overtime are the young kids who are making so little money, they are relegated to Ramen noodles for dinner.

Mr. Sturgell knows that a return to the negotiated collective bargaining agreement, while perhaps a tough pill to swallow, is the golden key to unlocking all of this. The wave of retirements will cease immediately. Experienced controllers from all walks of life will be lining up for FAA careers. Existing FAA controllers will be lining up for promotions to these hard to staff facilities. The FAA knows this and still refuses to correct the problem. That is criminal and should be worthy of much more than a tongue lashing by the US Congress.

I want to publically thank the two Senators from New Jersey, Senator Lautenberg and Senator Menendez for standing up for what is right and blocking the nomination of Bobby Sturgell. Senator Lautenberg was quoted as saying, "It's time for the Bush Administration to nominate an administrator who solves transportation problems, rather than creating more of them." Amen Senator.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hangover Wednesday

Let me see if I can add anything to the spin and debate over what happened on Super Tuesday. Here's what I took away:

Latino Factor: Latino voters make up 30% of the Democratic electorate in California. They favored Senator Clinton by a two to one margin. They favored Senator McCain by about the same margin.

It's about the delegates:
No one can spin the fact that the largest prizes, namely New York and California, went to Senators Clinton and McCain. Neither state is a "winner takes all" state for the Democrats, so Senator Obama will siphon some delegates there. On the Republican side, they are both winner takes all. Senator Clinton will leave Super Tuesday with about a 90 delegate lead over Senator Obama, roughly 800 to 710. Senator McCain holds more than a 2 to 1 margin over Governor Romney and more than 3 to 1 over Governor Huckabee. He is around half-way to the Republican nomination.

Home states: Senator Clinton won New York by a 17 point margin    while Senator Obama won Illinois by a 31 point margin. Senator Clinton won in Arkansas by 42 points while Senator Obama won in Kansas by 48 points. Senator McCain won in Arizona by 13 points. Governor Romney won in Massachusetts by 10 points. Governor Huckabee won in Arkansas by 40 points.

Early Voting: Over 200,000 voters in Arizona and over 2,000,000 voters in California cast their votes prior to Super Tuesday. This clearly favored Senators Clinton and McCain. Senator Obama managed to close the gap to around 10 points in each state, much closer than the polling from the past few weeks indicated. Early voting and Latino turn out sealed Mitt Romney's fate in California and placed his candidacy on life support.

Edwards:
With Senator Edwards no longer in the race, Senator Obama's numbers among white voters in Georgia shot up to over 40% - double what he received in South Carolina.

Show Me: As Missouri goes, so goes the nomination. The winner of the Missouri primary has gone on to win the nomination every year since 1960. While Senator Obama won in Missouri, the margin was around 5000, we won only in the urban areas and the delegate count will likely be split with Senator Clinton. Senator McCain won in Missouri by slightly less than 9000 votes. I'll still be interested to see if that trend continues.

McCaskill Factor: Senator McCaskill of Missouri is a staunch supporter of Senator Obama. She is very concerned about Senator Clinton's ability to energize the conservative base. Missouri was one of the few states where Senator Obama won the female vote (49-48).

Beyond the base: Governor Huckabee has done well where evangelicals reside: generally the South. Governor Romney has done well in states where he lived or has ties: Massachusetts, Nevada, and Utah. Senator McCain is pretty much winning everywhere else (mainly where Republicans traditionally do well) despite an onslaught of attacks from the conservative "media" (and I use the term loosely) and others who question his true conservative values. Even though Senator McCain is the frontrunner and the likely nominee, it remains to be seen if he can win in November where conservatives normally do not perform well.

Senator Clinton has done well where Democrats generally perform well (New York, California, Massachusetts). She did win in some other states (Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and New Jersey). Senator Obama is winning in states where African American and youth turnout has been high (South Carolina, Georgia). He has also won in non-traditional places where his "base" did not carry the day (Colorado, Missouri). The question is, can Senator Clinton win in November outside of tradition Democratic states? Will the Obama voters turn out for Clinton or turn their nose up?

Where to Now: Democrats in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington and the Virgin Islands vote Saturday (2/9) and in Maine on Sunday (2/10). Republicans in Louisiana, Kansas and Washington Vote Saturday. Both parties hold primaries in Maryland, DC and Virginia next Tuesday (2/12). The next big date for delegate count is Tuesday March 4th, when Ohioans and Texans go to the polls.

Predictions: As soon as Senator McCain receives the nomination, the Republicans will rally around him like the prodigal son. Limbaugh and Hannity will do the biggest 180 you've ever seen and act as if January/February never happened.

If the leading candidates (Clinton and McCain) win their respective parties' nominations, the 2008 election will be determined in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Virginia. Every other state will fall exactly like they did in the past two elections. The electorate will leave election day every bit as polarized as they did in 2000 and 2004.


 

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For

I just watched Maria Shriver's speech at the Barack Obama rally in Los Angeles. She referenced the quote that is the title of this blog and of course, being the geek that I am, I had to find the passage where it came from.

"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered:

Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? Do the children want what they see in you? Where is your water? Know your garden. Does your life grow corn?

It is time to speak your Truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we've been waiting for."

The Elders, Oraibi, Arizona, Hopi Nation"


 

Having lived in Arizona for ten years, my wife Maria and I identify with the Native American people. We have attended a few powwows and spend some time at the San Xavier del Bac mission on the Tohono O'odham settlement south of Tucson. When I heard the words, "We are the ones we've been waiting for" I was overcome by this feeling of hopefulness – this feeling as if I had heard this before.

Today of all days, this message resonates, for today voters across the country will go out and make their voices heard. It is a time for change in America, a time to put the dark times behind us and begin to heal as a nation, as one nation. Collectively, our voice is loud and change will occur.

Sometimes, when you seek out one thing, you uncover another gem.

"The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!"

This surely speaks for us as a nation as well. It also speaks to me as a member of a smaller collective, my union. Organized labor in the United States has sat at this same crossroads for the past two decades, lost for an identify, divided amongst itself, struggling for survival as corporate America continues to take us back into the stone age of workers' rights.

NATCA is no different. We have seen our shining star rise like a phoenix from the ashes of our predecessors. Our collective efforts and some very strong shoulders have carried us from irrelevance to a day where our voice is strong and will not be silenced. Certainly, we are living in dark times, without a collective bargaining agreement, under jailhouse rules where "front line managers" (you want fries with that?) act like wardens. Alas, we are not the only workers living in dark times, nor are we the first nor will we be the last.

The Federal Aviation Administration had to cheat, lie and steal from us to get here. They had to threaten and coerce their own management team into treating us like this. Sure some of them were licking their chops, chomping at the bit to exact their revenge on their workforce for whatever reason – most likely because they are jealous that they cannot do the job that I and my brothers and sisters so. Anyone who becomes an air traffic controller, who is destined to be a controller, does so because they have the "it" factor – the indefinable quality that makes this more than just a career to us, it is who we are. It is our identity. 99.9% of the individuals who moved into those jobs (and certainly the ones extracting their measure of revenge) do not and never will have the "it" factor….and it kills them. The cool thing about or brother/sisterhood: you all know precisely what I'm talking about.

Our resolve is so strong, that they cannot defeat us at the bargaining table or on Capitol Hill. Yes, it seems like a long time ago where we owned this profession, where we owned our identity and where we loved coming to work, despite the fact that we hated our inept employer. Yes my friends, hated. But we can get it back. Do not allow your repugnance of your employer to obscure your vision of who the true enemy is, who did this to you, who took away your profession and made it a job. Resist the temptation to turn your rage and your weaponry against your own and against your union.

This is the time to galvanize your resolve to make that difference, to lift ourselves up. I saw the tenacity last week in Washington, DC, where 400 members saw a need to gather themselves, unify their voices and make a difference. It was electrifying. We need to build on that momentum, continue this fight and prepare for the next one.

Be ever vigilant, my brothers and sisters, for the enemy strikes when you least expect it. Do not help them put you on the street, where you will fight them from the outside. Turn that resentment into a positive energy as we collective toil to take our profession from those who stole it. It is rightfully ours, my friends, for our brothers and sisters who shed blood, gave their families, their careers, their lives – they willed it to us and no one can take that away from us.

You cannot win this fight alone. You cannot protect yourself alone. The $600 or $1800 they gave you for going above and beyond is simply blood money. The stole it from you and gave some back – nothing more. Do not be angry at your brothers and sisters who received the blood money. This is another ploy to divide us, to turn one against the other. Resist the urge and withhold your anger for the employer who would pit your brother against you. They are the true criminals, not your brother or sister. The system itself is a joke and not because you were not recognized.

Victory may not be swift, but it is at hand my brothers and sisters. Their foundation is cracking and we must show tenacity and resist the urge to take the easy road. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Against All Odds

Congratulations to the New York Football Giants for defeating the now 18-1 New England Patriots, 17-14. Since I'm not a fan of either team, I wasn't too excited to sit down and watch the game. You can imagine how glad I was that I did. The Giants would not be denied tonight, as they played tenacious defense and did just enough offensively to win. Their nearly ten minute drive to start the game set the tone and they kept constant pressure on Tom Brady, who never seemed to get comfortable. While Eli played well, the MVP of this game was the defense.

Against all odds, this unit that began the season 0-2 finished 14-6 with ten consecutive road wins including three in the playoffs. They are the fifth wild card team to win the Super Bowl, joining the 1980 Oakland Raiders, the 1997 Denver Broncos, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers. They join the 1988 San Francisco 49ers as the only team to go 10-6 in the regular season and win the Super Bowl. They defeated three division champions – arguably the three best teams heading into the playoffs. I am reminiscent of the 1997 Arizona Wildcats run to the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, when they defeated three #1 seeds, including then 34-1 Kansas, North Carolina (Dean Smith's final game as head coach) and the defending National Champion Kentucky Wildcats.

It's amazing what people can do when the odds are stacked against them yet they perform as a team. I have seen it every day for nearly 20 years as an air traffic controller. We perform at a near perfect level each and every day because we perform as a unit. The airplanes move day in and day out because of that teamwork. Now imagine if Michael Strahan wasn't there to play defense tonight and instead, you plugged in a rookie. Well, Justin Tuck had five tackles and two sacks, so perhaps they still win. What if he's not there either? What if you took four starters from the Giants' defense and four from their starting offense? How do you like their chances now? How about if they had to play with eight men on defense against New England? How do you like their chances now? Unfortunately, that's what we face every single day. We are working the same traffic with less controllers, less sectors staffed, less assists staffed. No offense to our new hires, but #1 draft picks are few and far between. Even so, they still have to learn the playbook. Imagine having to learn the playbook the day of the Super Bowl? That's the position we're in. The difference is the understaffed Giants lose the Super Bowl – the understaffed controllers lose airplanes.

Against the odds, airplanes keep departing and landing safely. Often times, we're playing defense because we just don't have the staffing to play offense. We're playing catch-up with the airplanes, putting airplanes into holding or leaving them on the ground because we simply do not have the staffing to accommodate the traffic. The FAA attributes these delays to "volume", when in 2001, with adequate staffing, we handled that volume. It's apparent these delays are due to staffing, whatever BS line this administration wants to feed the flying public.

Check out the story from Sunday's Washington Post. FAA Chief Operating Officer Hank Krakowski: "'We have some places that are under a little bit of strain,' Krakowski acknowledged, pointing to facilities that control air traffic in the Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas areas, which are some of the nation's busiest." No worries – just low staffing at Chicago (American and United hub), Atlanta (Delta hub) and Dallas (Delta and American hub). Hank says the three busiest airports in the country are under a little bit of strain. I know people at those facilities. "A little bit of strain" in this case is like saying a woman is "a little pregnant".

I won't bash the media too much, since I have some dear friends who have written some wonderful pieces for us. I also know that the message is getting out and the writers are making a valiant effort to tell the balanced story. I just want to go on record as saying this is not about money and this is not about a contract dispute. This is about controllers leaving in unprecedented numbers – beyond the wildest predictions of the FAA – because of the dreadful work environment. The FAA knowingly and willingly created this work environment, forcing people to the exits. They froze the wages of those who dared to remain and slashed the starting wages of the replacements. I have never seen so many people resign or flat turn down the job in my 20 years.

Tomorrow, I return to work with thousands of my brothers and sisters around the country. We go back, knowing how much we love our job and hate our employer. Hopefully, we'll have a fourth quarter drive up our sleeve tomorrow – and the next day – and the day after that.



Super Bowl Ad

Happy Super Sunday! May the best team win. I'm rooting for the first tie in history. Here's to Super Tuesday!!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Grassroots

Traveling takes a lot out of me and unfortunately, the pages here were the one thing that had to take a back seat. Just like any form of journalism, I realize that it's difficult to gain a following if you write sporadically. Fortunately, I write for the sheer pleasure and not to gain recognition or groupies. :-) I want to say I do appreciate the messages of support I have received while in Washington this week.

It was fantastic to see all of my good friends on Capitol Hill this week. I am a person who values every friend that I have and every time I travel, I feel as if I simply do not have enough time to spend with those friends. We all lose sleep because we make that effort to catch up with one another and for the fear that we'll miss something! I spent the remainder of the week working on a project that I hope will help build grassroots activism beyond our wildest imaginations.

Having said that, words cannot explain how it warmed my heart to see all of the new folks who walked with us to bring our message to the leaders of this country. I have been traveling to DC off and on since 1995 and every year since 2002. The NATCA in Washington event is the single most important event NATCA holds and the attendance grows every year!

Over 400 activists "banged the Hill" this year (to steal a quote from my good friend Nitro). As the reports roll in, I can say that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Our friends in the House of Representatives are anxious to pass their version of FAA Reauthorization (HR 2881), which will return fair collective bargaining rights to FAA employees and restore what was stolen from us in September of 2006. They stand at the ready to defend their language when the time comes to iron out the differences with the Senate.

As it has been for many months, the Senate is still a very tough nut to crack. Our message is clear: S 1300 is vital to the continued safety of the flying public. The air traffic controllers, the engineers, the technicians, et.al. know the system is stretched beyond the razor thin margin of safety. Those of us working within the system have been robbed of the tools to keep the skies above this great land safe. We will continue to work six days a week, ten hours a day because we have to. We will continue to be vigilant on our watch and do everything possible to ensure the system is safe. To put it boldly, our knowledge, skills and abilities are no longer enough.

As I sit here and type this from 24,000 feet above the Northeast, I wonder if the controller working my flight is on his or her sixth day. I wonder if they are working a combined sector because there are not enough controllers to split off the airspace. I wonder if they have a "hand-off", an extra set of eyes and ears to take some of the workload off his or her hands. I am reasonably assured that their professionalism and dedication will guide me home. I just pray they have the tools to get me home safe.

The FAA knows it and they agree - not on why S 1300 is essential - but simply that is it crucial. Time is of the essence my friends and as every day passes where aviation safety professionals work without a contract, four or five more of my brothers and sisters decide to call it a career. The FAA Administrator knows it too and he has the ability to fix this. The FAA has what I liken to a drug addiction: they cannot and will not get help until they admit that they have a problem. To date, they continue to distort and deny. Just this past Monday afternoon, the FAA send another pack of distorted half-truths, bald faced lies, accusations and shots across the bow of the controllers to all of Congress. Obviously, an intervention is needed, because they just do not get it.

This FAA Administrator has been there since 2003 as the Deputy Administrator and now as the Acting Administrator. He has played a major role in the destruction of the national airspace system. We cannot live for five more years with this Administrator. Let us not be fooled by his acting status. He was there when the destruction began and he refuses to take the steps necessary to fix it. I made that point abundantly clear to the lawmakers.

To my brothers and sisters, keep the faith and keep fighting the fight. We are winning and they know it.

To the United States Senate, all of our safety – including your own – is in your hands. We need S 1300 today, not in six months or a year.

To everyone else, I leave you with this thought. I have told many of you that I never give it a second thought when I get on an airplane, no more than when I get into my car. You know what? Sunday was the first time I thought about it.


 

Epilogue: To my brothers and sisters at BWI, PCT, ZDC, ZNY, ZBW and especially ALB – thanks for getting me home safe.