After we wrote about TSA workers calling in sick due to the government shutdown an Air Traffic Controller contacted us with her own story. This is important because it doesn’t just impact the controllers themselves, it could impact aviation safety in general. The worker didn’t want to provide her name due to fear of retaliation, but here’s what she wrote to us:
I wanted you to know it is not just TSA calling out sick. However, I can tell you that hundreds of Air Traffic Controllers are also calling in sick in the FAA. We have facilities barely staffed, calling in overtime to cover for the sick leave.
The morale is worsening by the day as controllers are becoming irritable as their jobs are stressful the way it is. They have to maintain their medical to keep their jobs, so they can’t call out sick too many days in a row. However, the attitude is becoming more and more obvious. NATCA (National Air Traffic Controllers Association) and other unions are speaking out on their behalf in a professional way, but I can tell you the workforce is getting pissed. They are dedicated to do their jobs, but I can guarantee you if they don’t receive a paycheck on our pay date January 15th, there will be an uprising to a whole new level.
This was from a controller today: “Starting next week, work is going to become very difficult with the pay issues. How can you keep telling controllers to show up to work with no end in sight for the shutdown. The fairness in all this is beyond ridiculous. Staff and many other employees don’t have to report to work, and all of the essential personnel are required to report for the same pay when this over. 3-4 weeks off for free for furloughed employees and all the essential personnel continue to work everyday for the same pay. This shit is getting old!”
I have already begun seeing the comments on Facebook pages of how pissed they are. If you see flight delays, I wouldn’t be shocked to hear it is because of facilities having to shutdown due to Air Traffic Controllers calling in sick.
I think many are hopeful that we will have this resolved before January 15th. If it isn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that several air traffic control towers declared ATC zero meaning they don’t have enough employees to staff the planes.
That air traffic controller’s story is one of many. This week ABC reported:
Even though full-time ATCs are working throughout the shutdown, the existing shortage means they’ve been working six-day weeks and many hours of overtime at an “already stressful job,” Gilbert said. Their last paycheck was on Dec. 31, but the timing of their next paycheck is uncertain.
How long can this go on? The Washington Post reported the aviation system is indeed beginning to feel stress. And if this leads to a strike the Post writes it could end badly with history repeating itself:
A pivotal moment in aviation history came in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers.
10,500 Air Traffic Controllers working without pay.
3,000 air traffic support staff laid off.
Because Mexico won't pay for a Wall.
— Marc Perrone (@Marc_Perrone) January 4, 2019