Government seeks to freeze base pay for controllers, lower it for new hires
As U.S. airlines cheer him on, President George W. Bush is heading toward a confrontation with air traffic controllers over wages, the same issue that triggered a 1981 strike in which thousands were fired.
Carriers like Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp., already buffeted by high fuel costs and stiff price competition, could see their $16-billion annual tax burden increase if Bush fails to get controller costs in line. The Federal Aviation Administration and the controllers are at odds over the government's attempt in contract talks to freeze base pay for current controllers and lower it for new hires.
The airlines say their rising tax burden in recent years has added to their already formidable problems and they can't pass any added costs on to passengers because customers won't accept fare increases large enough to cover them.
"We're 100 per cent behind the administration's efforts to get the costs in line, and that has to be addressed in this negotiation process," said John Meenan, executive vice president of the Air Transport Association, a Washington lobbying group for major airlines. Increases in operating costs have "greatly increased pressure on the industry, and that's continuing," he said.
While the airlines have been forced to cut jobs and negotiate pay reductions, air controller wages have risen 74 per cent since 1998 under a contract negotiated with the Clinton administration, the FAA said. The agency has a powerful weapon in the current talks: federal law allows it to impose its last, best offer over union objections if negotiations deadlock.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is so concerned about that prospect that it has hired a well-connected lobbyist, former Republican National Committee chairperson Ed Gillespie, to plead its case in Washington.
It has ruled out a strike like the one in 1981 that prompted President Ronald Reagan to fire 11,350 controllers en masse.
"The administration is going to attempt to exploit a loophole in the law to avoid collective bargaining," said John Carr, the union president. "We intend to close that loophole."
FAA administrator Marion Blakey - who once worked as a special assistant to Reagan - has already used the law once, imposing a contract in July on 1,900 workers also represented by Carr's union. While Blakey said she hopes for an agreement with the controllers, she won't rule out a unilateral solution.
"It was necessary before," Blakey said in an interview. "We'd use it again, if it was necessary. That is what the law requires. You at some point have to come to conclusion."
The 15,000 current controllers earn $128,000, excluding benefits, according to the FAA. Under Blakey's proposal, new hires would be paid under a system in place before 1998, when controllers made $95,000, including benefits. Controllers are seeking a 5.6-per-cent pay increase, according to the FAA.
The negotiation recalls Reagan's confrontation with controllers in that "the precedent set in this contract will shape the future in terms of workforce costs," said Robert Poole, director of transportation studies for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian group in Los Angeles.
Now, as in 1981, the administration wants to clamp down on the FAA budget, said Ron Taylor, 59, a former controller in Stuart, Fla., who lost his job in the
Reagan-era walkout. "It's deja vu," said Taylor, who heads a group of former strikers. "The agency is going to force this deal. They've had 24 years to put this together, and they're not going to give up the Reagan legacy."
The FAA hired 8,705 controllers in the two years after the strike, including today's union president, Carr. The aging workforce will bring a retirement wave, with the FAA expecting 11,000 controllers to leave by 2014. The agency plans to hire 12,500 new controllers in the next decade at the lower pay Blakey seeks.
Talks, which began in July, have broken off for the holidays and will continue Jan. 9.
Indeed a shortage, they hired NEW people in 81, it's 2005 you do the math 25 years service and you can retire, that's why they want to start new hires at lower wages... ALL the new hires, which will be LOTS of them...Dockjock wrote:According to a recent article in FLYING magazine, there is an imminent controller shortage in the US. I'm not current on that issue on the US side of the border, but perhaps the usual tactic of reducing the pay of the working grunt isn't the best way to attack what is more than likely a systemic problem as opposed to a pure wage problem.
But fear not, no real "shortage" Riddley is pushing out 100's a month, and so are other institutes that offer Controller training, worst case scenario they end up using the military again.
Not a snowballs chance in hell the US GOV would ever be dumb enough to actually do that again. Well maybe G W but not his advisors.
Do you have any idea how much more traffic is moved since those days???? Any idea how depleted the MIL is??? Any idea the role of Civ ATC now-a-days?
You think giving them a raise or even status quo would cost alot, try running a DRASTICALLY reduced MIL service for ANY length of time. That would put even Southwest out of business.
Hollow threats and posturing, but secretly the FAA has to have a nasty brown streak running down the inside of its trowsers.....
*stands corrected*cpl_atc wrote:Except that in the US, that 2 year ATC college diploma thing is required just to apply to the FAA. The FAA still does further training beyond that diploma prerequisite. No idea what their annual training capacity is (the FAA's).cyyz wrote:But fear not, no real "shortage" Riddley is pushing out 100's a month, and so are other institutes that offer Controller training, worst case scenario they end up using the military again.