Fresh on the heels of Sunday’s post about the flavor of labor relations that led PATCO controllers to call a strike against the FAA in 1981, I added a question I asked acting FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell about employee morale during the “Ask the Administrator” session at AirVenture last week.
My question to Bobby Sturgell focused primarily on whether he realized the damage that bad morale was inflicting on the national airspace system itself, as well as the thousands of people who work for the agency.
I came away that afternoon, as did many others in the room, believing that the answer was either that Sturgell didn’t realize the price the current state of employee morale was taking at FAA, or that he didn’t care.
Yesterday, this letter arrived from NATCA member Tony Yushinsky and it really needs little explanation. It goes straight to the heart of the morale question I posed at AirVenture. But Tony’s letter below also looks at something that many of us have suspected, but few have mentioned out loud, the agency’s attempt to play pilots and controllers off against one another.
But perhaps Tony is in the minority on his thoughts below.
“I have been an air traffic controller for almost 20 years. I worked at Syracuse (SYR), Tucson Tower (TUS), Tucson Approach (U90), SoCal TRACON (SCT) and am currently working at Albany (ALB). I have also been a union activist for 18 years (since my first certification). As with all of my colleagues, I pride myself in being the best air traffic controller I possibly can. I also pride myself in giving the best service possible, sometimes to my own detriment. I NEVER deny service, always offer VFR flight following, always effect hand offs to the next sector and have never taken punitive action against a pilot or even raised my voice on the frequency. I have had terse discussions, but only when I feel as if the situation warranted and out of concern for the safety of the flight crew.
“The failures of the FAA over the course of my career and before have been well documented. Unfortunately, this administration has taken things to the next and hopefully lowest level. I hope and pray that we are at the bottom of the well looking up and someone will raise us up before we all drown. That may sound extreme, but I sincerely believe we are headed in the wrong direction at a rapid rate with no end in sight. Controllers like myself are seeing this gloom and doom every single day we strap on a headset and it is having a profound effect. The mantra of the air traffic controller has always been, “I love my job but I hate my employer!” Today, the FAA has sucked the love of the job out of nearly everyone!
“The FAA has made it clear that they want the senior controllers gone and they want it done yesterday. The contract dispute was not about money, it was about control. It was strictly intended to drive the hard-core activists and the anti-FAA crowd from the job in an effort to build a workforce of “yes-men”. What the FAA will never realize is that it takes a special kind of person to do this job. The qualities include that type-A personality, the same personality of control that questions authority, cherishes the control and will not be deterred or told what to do by a heavy-handed boss. They fired 11,800 air traffic controllers 27 years ago to the day (The strike was 8/3. The firings were two days later). The issue was control. The issue was rebuilding a workforce that they could control. Five years later, a new union was being formed and the FAA had not fixed the problems they created!
Ok, on to another issue … pilot deviations. The FAA has made it clear that we are all under the microscope. They have fired controllers for not checking a box on a medical form. They have fired controllers for covering up errors when controllers didn’t even realize they had lost separation. They have fired controllers for posting information on the union bulletin board that put the FAA in a bad light.
“It is clear to us that we are not welcome in their future plans. If you find this hard to believe, consider this: SoCal TRACON is working with 50% of the journeymen controllers than when I left in 2004. The numbers are similar around the nation. Burlington, VT is working with 10 journeymen training 11 new hires! Certainly this shows that no sacrifice is too great for this Agency to continue to implement their plan of control.
“Having said that, I have not been instructed to file pilot deviations at Albany nor have I been told I would be disciplined if I do not. I know some airports, like KMCI (Kansas City) is definitely run by some of the more militant FAA Managers, so it does not surprise me that this is happening there. One of my friends from SCT went to work at MCI and quit the FAA a short while later. I also would not be surprised if this tactic doesn’t spread like wildfire throughout the NAS.
The FAA has already done their best to pit controller against controller, to divide the controller workforce. It is not a stretch to think that the next logical step is to drive a wedge between the controllers and pilots. Always remember we work for a heavy-handed Agency. We hold your safety as our sacred trust. We are as protective of your ticket/careers as you are of ours or as we are of your lives.
“Your safety is our sacred trust. Today, more than ever we need to work together to protect the integrity of the NAS as the forces beyond our control intentionally erode that trust. I have always believed that if they were unaware of the consequences of your actions, I can forgive them for “they know not what they do”. Once they have been made aware, or it becomes apparent they always were aware, their actions are intentional, malicious and perhaps criminal.
Anthony E. Yushinsky, Air Traffic Controller
President, NATCA ALB Local