A Real Awakening
The man in charge of the nation's air traffic control system resigned Thursday after more reports of controllers falling asleep on duty in control towers during the overnight shift. At the same time, the government announced its solution to the problem. It is going to put two controllers in some of those towers, so presumably so one can keep the other one awake.
This might be funny to some, if it weren't so sad. Not the fact that tired, overworked controllers might dose off on a shift where maybe two airplanes land in eight hours, but the fact that our government believes the solution is to double the workforce to make sure the workers hired do their job. It is also ironic considering what happened to our nation's controllers in 1981.
Ronald Reagan was president and the controllers had a union. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) walked off the job, shutting down the nation's air system. This strike helped redefine labor relations in America. In response to the walkout, President Reagan declared the controllers were public employees and were breaking the law by going on strike. He said if they didn't report back to their jobs in 48 hours, they would all be fired. They were.
Now, nearly 25 years later there is another union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCO) and they are in negations right now with the Federal Aviation Administration on a new contract. But, guess what, they can't agree on a deal so the FAA says it's ready to just cut wages and impose the deal on the controllers and if they don't like it, tough.
But, when you have controllers catching zzzzzz's in the tower overnight, NATCO may have a public relations problem. The union claims that the men and women who work these overnight shifts are victims of bad scheduling and are simply overworked. That may be, but there are many workers in America who can make that claim and they stay awake on the graveyard shifts.
The FAA claims even if there is a snoozing controller in the tower, there is no safety problem. Planes land unassisted at airports all the time. Even jetliners filled with passengers can land without help from the tower when they touch down at 2 in the morning and there are no other planes around.
So, let me understand this. The controllers can't say awake and the government solution is to double the workforce. But, the government says these two controllers are not really needed because it is not a safety problem. Controllers say it's the government that is causing the controllers to work exhausted, so it's the FAA's fault.
I think I will write my congressman right now with a carbon copy to NATCO and a footnote reminding both of the history of 1981.