Some Say Things Are Worst Since 1981
ANN REAL TIME UPDATE: 11.28.05 1530 EST--- The FAA
has requested a federal mediator oversee its talks with
the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, with a goal
of reaching an agreement no later than December 25 with the
approximately 15,000 controllers represented by the
"They just aren't moving on the issues at the heart of the
negotiations," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told Bloomberg news
Monday. "Our call for mediation is about trying to get a voluntary
A spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers
Association union didn't immediately comment, pending a conference
call planned with reporters later today. As neither side has yet
declared an impasse in negotiations, both sides would have to agree
to the mediation.
Heated contract talks that began last summer between the union
representing US air traffic controllers and the Federal Aviation
Administration have brought to the public's attention the
contentious tone that has existed between the two entities for some
In fact, some in the industry say things are the worst they've
been since thousands of controllers were fired following the 1981
strike -- and TV and newspaper advertisements have brought the
battle to the public's attention, according to Reuters.
"I've been at the FAA since 1982 and morale is the worst I have
ever seen it," said John Carr, president of the National Air
Traffic Controllers Association.
It wasn't that long ago things were much better between NATCA
and the FAA. The relatively booming business climate and healthy
fiscal outlook for the federal government as recently as 1998 --
that meant a lucrative agreement between the two entities then --
quickly evaporated in the aftermath of 9/11.
While the FAA hasn't been impacted nearly as harshly as the
carriers, the agency has seen its regular
sources of funding, such as airline ticket and fuel tax receipts,
drop off as fares have decreased. Perhaps most restricting, though,
is the agency must submit its annual budget to an administration
now taxed by the costs of war and record deficits -- which wasn't
the case in 1998.
The FAA states 80 percent of its operating budget comes from
workers costs -- and at 14,500 members, the controllers union is
its largest labor group. The agency is looking there to trim its
expenses -- at a time when controllers hired after President
Reagan's firing of 13,000 striking workers, 24 years ago, are soon
looking to retire.
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey (file photo, above) says the
burden the agency faces must be passed down the ranks -- starting
with lower starting salaries for controllers. Blakey also wants to
rethink controller scheduling, work load, and performance
"We cannot afford an agreement like 1998 that saddled the FAA
with excessive costs, archaic work rules and restrictions on our
ability to modernize the system," said Blakey.
Blakey stated the first three years of the last contract
agreement cost the government over $1 billion in additional costs,
with some controllers making as much as $165,000 annually,
including O/T and benefits.
While Carr (file photo,
right) acknowledges times are tougher now than they were in 1998,
he says the FAA's thinking is wrong -- especially as the airline
industry is beginning a resurgence, and the agency presently finds
itself in urgent need of new controllers to replace retiring
The NATCA president also claims the FAA has rejected union
proposals on staffing and other issues, and ignored claims of
overwork and employee stress.
"When your employer does not believe you are giving industrious
service and value it kind of makes it hard to have a good
relationship," Carr said.
In response to Carr, FAA spokesman Greg Martin was succinct.
"What have they done to help that relationship?" replied