FAA’s Bobby Sturgell says Controllers Volunteer for Overtime

By Robert Mark on February 14th, 2008

As the Comedic Cuban troubadour Ricky Ricardo would often say to Lucille Ball, “it looks to me like someone has some splaining to do.”

For months I’ve been sitting here defending the air traffic controller workforce against FAA’s penal-colony work tactics of forced overtime.time clock I did this because I believe that, like tired pilots, tired controllers are more prone to mistakes. I still think we’ll see that the increase in controller errors has a relationship to the amount of time and the schedule these people work.

But now I find out that many FAA controllers are happily working overtime and six day weeks, even volunteering for the extra duty. FAA acting administrator Bobby Sturgell’s recent letter to Congressman Sam Graves said so, right there on page two paragraph five. So did the GAO report that came out on Wednesday.

NATCA’s Pat Forrey testified before the House subcommittee on Aviation about runway safety right alongside FAA’s Hank Krakowski yesterday as well.

Forrey said, in part, “Today there are 1,500 fewer fully-certified controllers than there were on 9/11 – leaving fewer eyes to watch more planes, and the result is increased controller fatigue (my emphasis).”

Forrey added, “NATCA is not alone in sounding the alarm on passenger safety.  The NTSB and GAO have determined that the threat of controller fatigue is real. The increase of runway incursions is real too. There have been 12 serious A and B runway incursion the first four months of FY 2008 compared to 3 during the same time frame last year. The warnings of the GAO, the IG, and the NTSB should not go unheeded. NATCA stands by ready, willing and able to offer real solutions.  We can only hope that the FAA is really listening.”

You had me at “the threat of runway incursions is real.” But come on folks.

You can’t have it both ways complaining on the one hand complaining about understaffed ATC facilities and overworked controllers while quite a few are grabbing the golden rings the agency is tossing out and exhausting themselves in the process.

The numbers in the GAO report on Runway Safety show that 85 percent of the controllers at Hartsfield Tower volunteered for OT. At Houston Intercontinental the number was 97 percent and at Nashville the number is 75 percent.

OK folks, please tell our readers how we make sense of this? We’re supposed to stress out about runway incursions sometimes caused by tired controllers. But we’re also supposed to turn our heads while you wear yourselves out for the money. The data seems to show that more than just a few controllers would rather have the money than a good night’s sleep too.

But maybe I have this all wrong and controllers really aren’t talking out of both sides of their mouth.

This is a blog. We’ll listen. So c’mon … “splain” it to me.


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46 Responses to “FAA’s Bobby Sturgell says Controllers Volunteer for Overtime”

  1. Rick Says:

    I’d like to know what the FAA’s definition of “volunteering” is?

    If FAA management publishes a schedule that includes overtime, does that mean the controller just “volunteered” to work overtime?

  2. mark athas Says:

    It’s irrelevant whether you “volunteer” or not. The fact is controllers are having to work six day weeks at many ATC facilities, to keep the NAS running.

    I’m on the NO list at work for OT, but it still gets assisgned to me.

    And the larger reality is, every controller in the FAA could request no OT and it wouldn’t have any impact on the amount of OT assigned, or the fairy tales that Bob Stoogell keeps spinning for the US Congress.

  3. Debbie Says:

    The only time I have ever volunteered for overtime was to help out another controller. If I didn’t volunteer, the lower seniority controller was going to be assigned it and I knew he had his family in town.
    Most of the 6 day weeks you are hearing about are assigned when the schedule is posted. I wouldn’t call that volunteering.

  4. Burned out Says:

    Most controllers do NOT volunteer for overtime. Contact NATCA, and they’ll happily provide you with contact number for major facilities in the US. Those facilities will happily provide you with the “Overtime list” which shows every controller but one or two on the “we don’t f*&king want it!” list.
    In most places, holdover overtime (2 hours at end of shift) is assigned. You cannot turn it down. The FAA considers that to be voluntary in that you took the job knowing it was a possibility. Except now it’s not a “possibility” but SOP at most facilities.
    Further, many facilities are either scheduling a 6th day during a work week. You can’t turn it down, as it’s scheduled. FAA’s logic for this is the same as the above. “Voluntary” right?
    In fewer and fewer cases, the 6th day will be assigned when the facility calls the controller at home. These calls work like this:
    Facility: “You’re assigned 8 hours today, be here in 2 hours”
    Controller: “I can’t, I’m taking my kids to the park!”
    Facility: “If you can find someone else to take it, fine, but for now, it’s yours, and no one else can work it (since they’re likely already on their 6th day). See you in two hours.”
    The above is becoming more and more rare as more and more controllers are refusing to answer their phones on their days off. We all have caller ID, and we know when the facility is calling. Supervisors have taken to calling the people on their cells, to disguise who’s placing the call. As a result, most controllers on their days off simply turn off their phones, or let all calls go to their voice mail and don’t return the calls.
    The FAA knows this, and has just taken to scheduling the OT. If a person doesn’t show up for that OT (Hey, it’s “Voluntary” right?) they’re charged with being AWOL, given a 30 day suspension without pay, and watched like a hawk. Sick days used or have a deal, and they’ll get fired. How’s that for voluntary??

    Now there are controllers who like working OT. But you will have a hard time finding one who likes it every day of their normal 8hr shifts being turned into 10 hour shifts. You’ll find it hard to find the guy who likes having just one day off every week.
    Not only is it literally killing us, but I hate to think of what it’s doing to marriages and families. Eventually the husbands and wives are going to get fed up with having an absentee spouse, and look for someone else to help raise their kids. Someone who’ll actually be there more than once a week.

    Do the math: If you spend 60 hours a week at work, that’s a lot. Add in 2 hours a day for the commute to and from work, 8 hours for sleep, and you’re left with 2, (TWO!) hours a day to get ready for work, spend time with the kids/spouse/pay bills/relax/do the yard/go to the school play/etc etc.
    But it gets worse: You’ve also got the quick turns (day shift to a mid) to deal with. And what if you get sick? You’ll get the 3rd degree from you supe who instantly assumes you’re lying and just trying to get a day off, who demands a doctor’s note (like we’re in the 5th f*&king grade for crying out loud!!!!) about your illness. So most of us go to work sick. Infecting dozens of others and causing more illnesses and more people who should be on sick-leave but cover it with Dayquil and cough drops.
    So now you’ve got a medicated, sick, tired and depressed controllers watching your plane as it heads into ORD or JFK or DFW or LAX.

    How safe do you feel? You would never, NEVER allow a pilot to sit in the cockpit if he was fatigued, sick and self-medicating due to illness to fly people from one coast to another over 8 hours. But this country is fine with dozens if not hundreds of such controllers in the towers and in the radar rooms guiding not just one but dozens of aircraft at any given time. So again: How safe do you feel?
    But don’t worry; it’s just them greedy controllers whining about that “Voluntary” Over Time and money. You can take your OT money, put a light coat of oil on it and shove it. I want to see my freaking family, take my wife to dinner, fly a kite with my kids. I knew taking this job that OT was POSSIBLE. I didn’t sign up for this job thinking it would be every day, 6 days a week, 10 hours a day.

    People in this country won’t get a clue until some medicated, tired and depressed controller accidentally runs a 76 into a A320. This is why I don’t fly anymore. I thought 49 people in LEX was enough, but I guess the magic number for people in this country to pay attention is 50 crispy-critters or greater.

  5. s myers Says:

    At my facility there are no names on the volunteer list. The reasons are, we are tired and the FAA will use it as propaganda. The propaganda the likes of you will believe. The public should listen to the controllers because we are doing the job and love it. The controllers have no hidden agenda and will not lie.

  6. VS Says:

    The FAA is lying to you. I’m on the NO overtime list and have been assigned overtime. If I don’t show up, I can be disciplined and eventually fired if I don’t show up again. How voluntary is that. I’m sure there are some that have volunteered, but if my facility is any indication the 85% is closer to the no overtime list. If this was last year they may have been right. When I started getting assigned 6 day work weeks every week, I submitted a letter to my operations manager to be taken off the list, and was told I couldn’t because it was past the beginning of the leave year. I never knew that was in their imposed work rules so I was stuck until this year. I didn’t make the same mistake twice, I made sure the FAA had my letter in November to be taken off the list starting in January. A lot of good that did.

  7. Dennis L Says:

    You disappoint me that you would actually believe the Stooge!

  8. Ron Carpenter Says:

    You want splanin here goes. I am the local president of NATCA at Memphis Enroute Center. Here is how we “volunteer” for overtime. A list was collected of individuals to contact about overtime. Those of us that don’t necessarily like overtime didn’t sign up for it. But guess what if they get to my name in the list they will assign me overtime like it or not.

    Mr. Sturgell and the FAA have played loose with the facts and as you said youu have followed this so you should know they aren’t going to admit they have a problem. I knwo that here we actually have management calling in management to work overtime so managers can work the boards. If that isn’t a shortage of manpower I don’t know what is.

    We haven’t lied yet and there is no need to lie or complain about things that are happening.

  9. Steve McDonald Says:

    The bottom line is if they (FAA) need overtime, they are short staffed. It doesn’t matter if someone volunteered to work it or not. You don’t just give someone overtime because your a good employeer. And trust me, the FAA is a far cray from a good employer.

  10. Steve McDonald Says:

    Cry, not cray. Sorry.

  11. Dan Moses Says:

    I would like to know how many of these controllers “volunteered” specifically for this OT, or how many simply didn’t REFUSE it. As a controller at Boston Center, I have never specifically asked for overtime other than to help another controller get a needed day off (maybe once or twice a year as a favor). If I am ASKED to take overtime to fill in for a lack of staffing, I either don’t answer the phone, or tell managers no (or at least, come back to me if you find no one else that will take it). Occasionally, I am ASSIGNED overtime in advance and don’t complain…much. The other alternative is to list yourself as a Non-volunteer, and thus, you are only assigned overtime as a last resort. So, when they say that a high percentage of overtime was “voluntary”, I wonder how many controllers where ASSIGNED overtime because they weren’t on the non-volunteer list. We’re not lining up to work tired, trust me.

  12. Bill Seay Says:

    I read, with interest, your deductions concerning “volunteer overtime” and can understand your rational of having your cake and eating it to.
    Let me say that overtime is supposed to be an exception other than the rule and there are a number of mitigating reasons that have us working overtime shifts.
    1. First, and foremost, it is cheaper to pay us overtime than to hire a full time employee.
    2. Every facility has an overtime volunteer list that you have to either say yes or no to at the beginning of the year. You cannot change your mind when the schedule starts reflecting overtime on a weekly basis.
    3. Overtime has become an order, a direct order, and if you, for one reason or another (your child’s graduation), cannot work that overtime, you can and most likely will be disciplined.
    I could go on but, hopefully, you get my point. Please sir, do not take any message about anything initiated by FAA as gospel as there are always misrepresented facts associated with their PR documentations.
    I am a 33 year Gov’t employee and I approved this message.

    Air Traffic Controller
    Bill Seay

  13. Micah Says:

    *Most* controllers are not volunteering for OT. *Some* are. *All* are being scheduled OT.

    The FAA came out with a volunteer and non-volunteer roster for OT at my facility.

    The volunteer list is nearly empty. Fortunately, my facility isn’t short enough to start scheduling OT, but as soon as it is, we’ll all get OT.

    Volunteer or not.

  14. MikeyP Says:

    “Splain it?” You’re a pilot…but I will try! :)

    Even though I have been a controller for over 26 years, I am not sure what those numbers mean. But, my guess is, they represent the percentage of controllers in the building who said they would be willing to work overtime.

    You see, at the beginning of each new bidding cycle, they ask us if we want to train, work overtime, etc, etc, etc. It helps the scheduler to figure out who would prefer what, when.

    Historically, a lot of people would put themselves on the “willing to work overtime” list because overtime shifts were rare. Picking up a shift or two a year is not a big deal.

    But that has changed a lot. My facility is not as hard hit as some, but we are already working short in FEBRUARY. Makes you wonder what is going to happen when spring and summer vacations hit us! I assure you there are plenty of folks working over time who do NOT want it.

    Also, keep in mind that the FAA hit us hard in the wallets. Some harder than others, but we have all been impacted. I would not be surprised if some people are picking up overtime shifts to meet their obligations.

    Having been a post-strike 6-day week worker for several years, I can tell you it IS dangerous and it DOES take a toll.

    The absolute bottom line? We never should have gotten in this mess in the first place. How come the folks at FAA HDQ were the only ones in the country who did not see this coming?

    I planned on staying for at least a few years after eligibility. Now I am going March 1st. Stand by for more jumpers when vacations are canceled and overtime goes up even more.

  15. Jeff Aulbach Says:

    As I am sure you are now aware, it does not make a bit of difference whether on volunteers for overtime or not. In my facility, Boston ARTCC, most controllers are on the “volunteer” list. Then again, most people choose not to volunteer by not answering thier phone. Once overtime is authorized, a staffing deficiency is admitted to by the agency. They do not have enough people on hand to cover sick leave, etc.

    If there were no “volunteers” the overtime still would be assigned, with no way out of it unless you can give it away.

    The volunteer label is actually a misnomer. A better way to think of it is that the non-volunteer list is a do not call list, that these people have no interest in ever working overtime. But if push comes to shove, they can be assigned an overtime shift just like anybody else.

    Just a woird of advice: don’t regurgitate anything that the FAA tells you before you get both sides of the story.

  16. Terry Sullivan Says:

    The more hours a controller works, the more he or she will be fatigued, regardless of whether it was forced or voluntary. There are rules that limit how many hours they can work and how many hours are required between shifts. Pilots have similar rules. There is a good reason for these rules: to keep them from being forced to work too much – or to volunteer too much – and hopefully limit the fatigue. Each controller thinks he’s Superman and can handle whatever is thrown at him. They need to be that confident. The problem is that the fatigue sneaks up on you. The ones volunteering will get burned out quicker. Sooner or later they will realize it’s not worth the money and stop volunteering. I personally do not volunteer any more. I now know that I need my time away from work if I’m going to last until retirement.

  17. Jeff Cox Says:

    How exactly do you “volunteer to work overtime”? Next Thursday, on my first day off, all I have to do is wake up, decide I’ve got some free time, call the ATM and say “hey I’ll be in around 10. Feel like working some OT today”? I kind of doubt that they’ll have me in if they don’t need me.

    The voluntary vs. forced OT line that the agency uses is bogus. If they call all the “yes” list and don’t get anyone, they’ll call the “no” list. When they get tired of calling and not getting any “volunteers”, they just pre-schedule it.

    What company anywhere allows their employees to just show up whenever they want to work overtime, when their staffing is at the necessary level? None.

    OT, is OT is OT. It points directly to insufficient staffing, nothing more.

  18. V Harville Says:

    When the FAA imposed it’s work rules on our workforce I immediately gave my notice to management that I was not “vounteering” to work overtime, knowing that they would eventually twist the meaning of the word volunteer. I also informed them that I was not “volunteering” to train or work CIC duties either. Of course I’ve been ordered to do all three. So the word is just semantics until the FAA wants to use it to defend years of bad planning and poor decisions.

  19. Rodney Turner Says:

    Mr. Mark — the term “volunteer” is currently being spun out of convenience by the agency. During normal times when staffing is NOT so poor, the agency wants to know who is and who is NOT interested in being called at home on their regularly scheduled days off in the event overtime is needed.

    Please read that again – “the agency wants to know who is and who is NOT interested in being called at home on their regularly scheduled days off” — the term volunteer is not used in the true sense of the word — As an air traffic controller, I do not decide one morning that I would like a little extra cabbage so maybe I’ll head in to work some overtime today. Overtime is only assigned when the agency needs it. Up until the summer of 2006, my facility, BNA – Nashville — overtime was something we seldom saw used or even thought about. In fact, when we were short on some days the agency response was “there is no money for overtime” — well, suddenly someone has found the money and we are scheduled overtime on better than an average of 3 out of four weeks.

    To assume that because many of us (75% according to the GAO report) are working overtime because we like it is disenginuous at best. If 100% were on the so-called “non-vlunteer” list, overtime would continue to be assigned and with the same frequency we suffer from today. Until some of these children that are reporting in to our facilities get certified, we will continue to be working 6 days a week —

    —and if you choose to believe Mr. Sturgell, that is certainly your choice. You get to live with it, just like we have to live with the decisios he makes — every day.

    If you fly for business or pleasure purposes, remember that the next time you walk down the jetway.

    Thanks for your time

  20. A.S. Says:

    Controllers don’t volunteer for overtime. ATC management calls in or assigns controllers overtime. Every year the FAA solicits employees to be on a roster of qualified persons eligible to work overtime. When they call in or assign OT they use that roster first. If they can’t get anyone on that roster they call in or assign OT to employees not on that roster. Either way you can’t call your facility and tell them you are volunteering to come in for OT. It doesn’t work that way. OT is assigned or called in because of short staffing.
    The FAA needs to be careful not to hurt themselves by playing with numbers again. They have been claiming that controllers are volunteering for overtime since their imposed work rules have been in effect. No one at my facility is on any OT roster. The result. OT has increased dramatically this year because of short staffing. Almost daily there is holdover, before shift or a whole shift of overtime assigned. As a matter of fact I worked assigned OT last night.
    God help us if another Katrina hits in this region. There will not be even close to enough controllers to work such a rescue operation for years to come. We had 21 controllers then. Come this summer we will have 12 certified controllers with 3 trainees and 2 more indicating they will retire. You want to talk numbers? Send me an email, we’ll talk REAL numbers.

  21. ken Says:

    Well Mr Mark again you raise a valid point. Quite often a senior controller will volunteer for overtime, often (more so in the past)they volunteer out of pride, to get the job done! And done right. There are many hardcore controllers out there who look at the whole shortage of controllers much the same as a big push of aircraft while shorthanded!!! Strap-on this is going to be a ride. These controllers need to be dragged of the scope from time to time before they self destruct. (continued)

  22. ken Says:

    It’s like the manager walking out to the mound and taking the ball from the starting pitcher just because his arm is falling off! What does that pitcher say? Come on coach i can finish it!!! another factor to take into account with overtime is that if senior controllers don’t volunteer, the junior controllers starting at the bottom of seniority working up, are forced into the overtime. So if you are 5 short for a day shift and no senior controllers answer the call, you end up with the 5 most inexperienced controllers!

  23. Chris Says:

    Some of us have to work overtime for just the money. I fall under the new payscale(even though I was hired before sept 3) I need that overtime to survive from paycheck to paycheck. Don’t get me wrong I would love to spend 2 days a week with the family, but some things are more important. I feel even more sorry for the people hired after me (they make less)

  24. Mike Patterson Says:

    Mr. Mark:

    I must say I am surprised that you did not contact someone from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and ask them about this before you took the word of the FAA as gospel. Here is the telephone number, so please next time call 202.628.5451 and speak to someone in our communications department, before you soil yourself, by regurgitating and spewing the FAA rhetoric, before you asked any questions and got the other side of the story. I must say this is not the best example of good journalism I have ever seen.

    Now back to the discussion at hand. I too have over 21 years experience as a Certified Professional Air Traffic Controller, and I can also say that my plan has been to work until age 56, when the mandatory government retirement for controllers kicked in and forced me to leave.

    I must say that now I will be leaving when I first become eligible to retire in just over a year and a half at 50 years of age.

    The very fact that this agency does not in any way appreciate it workforce is damning, and I see no reason to suffer this type abuse even though this is a job I have always loved doing.

    Essentially the FAA wished to force out the highest paid employees rather than just let nature take it course as would happen, actually unnaturally for a government agency, due to the rapid replacement hiring of 12,000 employees after the 1981 firings.

    The problem is the road the FAA started down to do this looked like a great way to thin out the highest paid workers. Unfortunately it was a bad idea for two reasons, one being that they are also losing their most experienced workers and often some of their best trainers, but secondly they know of no good way to stop the stem of losses, because of the way they went about forcing them. In other words it will be very difficult to stop the hemorrhaging without admitting they were wrong in how they treated their most important asset, their workers.

    So if you look at all these factors first, then assume what you wrote, you will see that the agency artificially reduced the workforce creating huge staffing imbalances, forcing them to call in overtime, that some employee will work, because regardless of whether you are on the list to work overtime or not eventually you or someone will be forced to work that shift.

    The point is there are 1500 fewer air traffic controllers today than there were 6-7 years ago and we actually have the lowest number of controllers since the 1990’s.

    Another point you must consider that also exacerbates an already tenuous situation is the fact that the new hires that the agency speaks of are just that, they are green trainees with often little to no experience, and trust me with my 20 plus years of experience I can guarantee you that there is no replacement for experience.

    By the way the previous statement is not meant to disparage the replacement workforce in any way, as the point is again I speak from experience, as I have sat in that seat and I know what it is like to be that green air traffic controller with little to no experience.

    In other words the agency is acting like a first year medical student is a doctor, when in reality they have many years before they reach that plateau, when in reality the new hires are on the same level as that first year medical student.

    I will throw in one final factor that often has been lost in this discussion and that is after the strike, the FAA and the airlines agreed to allow the agency to run huge in trail spacing of the 50 to 100 mile magnitude between airplanes, which allowed many of the controllers hired after the strike to season on some traffic that is no where near the level of density and complexity of what the trainees of today see.

    So to answer your question Mr. Mark, yes we do work overtime, because we are required to work it as a part of our employment, so the real question should be is why is there such a huge amount of retirement and as many of my fellow controllers have stated above, the workers have no control over the amount of overtime the agency requires its workforce to work.

    Thanks for considering our responses, but please take my advice next time and search for both side of the story before you make your decision on who is right and what is real.

  25. Vivian M. Lumbard Says:

    I’ve been a controller for over 16 years; the first half at BOS, a larger facility that had an “overtime budget”. Until the IWRs, overtime mostly consisted of having to stay two hours after an evening shift of thunderstorms or snowstorms backing up the traffic flow. Even then, it was a rarity. At that time, being on the “volunteer” list meant you might get held over a couple times a year.

    I’ve worked more overtime in the last year than all the years previous combined and I’m on the “non-volunteer” list for overtime. And the Agency is STILL running our facility short-staffed. They’re routinely scheduling shifts with 20-40% fewer CPCs than they would have a year and a half ago.

    40% of our workforce at my current facility is in training and that percentage is going up. And contrary to some of the Agency’s public statements, they’re not using overtime to conduct training. Here, they’re using overtime to just keep things runnning. Not smoothly, not effectively, not safely…just running. If we can get someone an hour of training, too, that’s a bonus for the trainee.

    Pat Forrey is absolutely correct when he says there are fewer certified eyes watching the skies. What’s even worse is that statement is true EVEN with all the forced overtime…using “volunteers” and “non-volunteers.”

    If the Agency wanted to be completely accurate about using “voluntary” overtime, then they would stop scheduling the non-volunteers for overtime. If they don’t have enough bodies, then curtailing services should be the way to go. Want to take a bet on whether they’d do that?

    The NAS is on a downward spiral; impact is imminent.

  26. Dan Keough Says:

    Geez Jetwhiner, did you just take a big old chunk of FAA fish bait or what? That plastic worm came right out of their “Safety Was Never Compromised” tackle box. Ouch, that hook wound is going to sting for a while.

    This is a good example of why it is tough to get the message out about Imposed Work Rules, Change of Culture, ridiculous starting pay and planning ahead for the loss of retiring controllers. Someone who has been there on both sides of the radio frequency shouldn’t fall for the big glob of FAA cheese bait. Overtime means understaffed. The more understaffing there is, the more overtime there is. Even Cinnabuns taste crappy after the third one!

  27. Tony "YC" Yushinsky Says:

    My name is Tony Yushinsky. I am an air traffic controller at Albany and I write a blog at http://yc68.blogspot.com/ . I wrote a post a few days back about the confirmation hearings where I challenged the statement made by Sturgell that controllers volunteer for overtime. To save you the trouble and so I can ‘spain it to you a little more in depth: Controllers are not voluntering for six-day work weeks and ten hour days. The FAA schedules controllers for these overtime shifts. On other days, when I am on a regular day off (such as today), if the shift is short, the FAA might call me for overtime. It is my choice to answer or not answer the phone. If I answer, and it is the FAA calling for overtime, I am not given an option – I do not volunteer for the shift. I am instructed to report for duty.

    The FAA is playing a public-relations semantics game with the word “volunteer”. You could say when I answered the phone, I volunteered.

    The FAA does maintain a “volunteer” and a “non-volunteer” overtime list at every facility nationwide. This list is to insure that the agency assigns overtime equitably. It is every much to insure that those who are higher in seniority who do not want overtime are not called as it is meant to insure those who want overtime are called equitably. This was something that was negotiated in every collective bargaining agreement and was carried over in their imposed work rules.

    For the past 19 years that I have been a controller, I was on the volunteer list. The system was adequately staffed, and I received maybe one overtime call per year. Some years I never got called. Once the staffing became what it is today, I (along with an overwhelming majority of my collegues) removed my name from their volunteer list. The people who are on the “do call” list are the young folks who are making one-third of what I am making, and need the money to get by. I watch one of our kids eat Raman noodles every day at work. Another was excited that she was scheduled to work nights next week because she gets 10% differential pay after 6pm.

    I have personally told these stories to my members of Congress. I certainly am not Rafael Palmerio or Roger Clemens, so I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. What would I have to gain by lying? Having said that, I will make sure the controllers who don’t regularly read your blog have a shot at this as well. I’m sure you’ll get some viewer mail.

    By the way, perhaps you should ask the FAA why they put a tower-experienced military controller, and veteran of two tours in Iraq on the street after setting her up for failure by having her start her career in the busiest approach control in the world – New York TRACON?

    Maybe you could find out why 23 controllers is suddenly acceptable at JFK when 37 was the standard for 20 years and how that doesn’t equate to delays. Or why a controller at Syracuse worked 13 and a half hours because they could not find someone to work overtime and they refused to call in their supervisors – or the controller who pulled a double shift at Washington Center under the same circumstances.

    Feel free to drop me a line or drop my my blog.

    Tony “YC” Yushinsky
    NATCA ALB Local

  28. Dave B Says:

    The FAA is playing loose with the term “volunteered for”.

    First, only the FAA can authorize overtime. Controllers MAY NOT simply show up early, stay late, or come in on a day off for the purpose of collecting overtime.

    Second, in cases where overtime is authorized by the FAA, it is for reasons such as staffing (too few controllers on the shift), training, etc. Again, the FAA determines when and how much overtime will be used.

    Third, once per year (typically during the yearly crew bidding timeframe), the FAA asks if you would like to be called for overtime, or would NOT like to be called. Some prefer not to work overtime. Some will say yes. The choice only helps management limit their time spent calling for overtime – example: if they have a list of 12 eligible for overtime and 3 said ‘no’, then they would call the other 9 first. Either way, the FAA can assign overtime to anyone at anytime regardless of this designation – and if a supervisor can not get ahold of the first 9, you bet your bottom end the other 3 will get a call.

    Now, the FAA wants to label that ‘volunteered for’, when in fact it is nothing more than a process invented by the FAA to help their supervisors make better use of their time when calling in or assigning overtime.

  29. John Jirschefske Says:

    You should get an EAR-full. Imagine YOU are ME: I am a 20 year veteran controller and 6,000 hour corp. pilot with two kids under the age of 3. I am on the DO NOT CALL ME OR GIVE ME OVERTIME LIST. COPY? LET ME SAY IT AGAIN: do not call me for overtime on my
    day off and do not assign me ANY overtime. You’re not confused are you? I mean I was just pretty clear about that, RIGHT? I DIDN’T VOLUNTEER FOR JACK. Yet management ROUTINELY assigns or FORCES me to work overtime BOTH holdover of two hours tacked onto my 8
    hour day AND a full 8 or 10 hour day on one of my days two days off each week.

    We have a controller who is currently facing a time off without pay suspension because his schedule is so jacked up by management that he can’t even keep up with or remember all the overtime shifts he has been assigned. His CRIME? He forgot to come in and work
    his forced overtime shift! Imagine that! MANAGEMENT short staffs the facility and causes the staffing problem that forces this controller to work tons of overtime. THEN when the controller makes one small slip up and FORGETS to come in for one of his overtime
    shifts (he THOUGHT he had the day off, after all it WAS his day off) management moves towards an immediate suspension of the employee.

    I want Bobby’s Job. I could then lie straight up in front of congress, perger myself in the process AND MAKE A HELL OF LOT MORE MONEY THAN WHAT I MAKE as a controller. I bet good old Bobby gets weekends off and his kids see him at home. I can’t just LIE to pilots and get away with it. If I lied about runways
    being clear, mountains not being in your way etc. I would be killing people. BUT GOOD OLD BOBBY SURE CAN.

    Heck he is making a well paying CAREER OUT OF IT!

    AND YOU BOUGHT IT ALL HOOK LINE AND SINKER! As far as I am concerned you’re just a head nodder, like a little bobble doll in the car. Bobby speaks; you nod, what a shame really. You know now that I think about rob your dead on in your recent blog: I “CAN’T HAVE
    IT BOTH WAYS” i.e. I can’t get both the truth and lies out of good old Bobby, instead IT’S JUST ONE WAY: lies. Because really I am NOT getting any real TRUTH from Bobby.

    John Jirschefske
    Long Beach Tower

    PS: You might be MISSING the point. There are always two LISTS of controllers at each facility, those that desire overtime and those that do not. Are there some on a desire or “call me” list? Sure, there are. But
    THE POINT IS the FAA has mismanaged their employee resources to the point of them being so desperate for bodies that that are ROUTINELY forcing ALL controllers into mandatory overtime situations. Their
    new rebaselined staffing plan is just work all the remaining controllers to death or until they collapse.

    The real problem is this late in the staffing crisis that is exactly what we are headed towards; a collapse. I just hope I am not on frequency in the cockpit when THAT happens.

  30. Dave Says:

    At most facilities there is a preferred overtime list. If you are on the list you are called before someone on the non-preferred list. In the past that meant one or two calls a year. If nobody accepts the overtime it is assigned. I believe the FAA is trying to say that every overtime from a preferred employee is voluntary. I am non-preferred and I was assinged 144 hours of overtime last year. Most of it between the summer months. This year will be worse. Those at my facility on the preferred list got maybe 30 more hours. Very little of this was volunteer.

  31. M. Griffin Says:

    This type of info is so misleading! A lot of us in the facilities are working OT – yes, the money is good, but we really are not volunteering for it. I work at Boise Tower and Tracon – we have 17 certified controllers and 10 trainees in various stages of training.

    We work OT because it is scheduled – we do not have a choice! Our staffing is supposed to be 24 to 26 controllers. Do the math – OT is necessary just to build a schedule without factoring in vacation time, sick leave, etc. The FAA will say anything to cover up the fact that they did not adequately plan for the controller retirements that are happening now. I would be happy to answer any other questions you might have. Thanks.

  32. Terry Says:

    I turn down overtime regularly. The younger guys work overtime more than me. (Maybe they have the sub prime mortgages.) If I let it be, the decisions that are being made above me would drive me insane. As it stands right now, I am writing most of it off to “I cannot let the stress get to me” and “You cannot fix stupid”. I cannot change what has taken 50 years to become “normal”. I tried once in 1981. I paid for it dearly.

    Terry Miller – Line Controller (CPC) who cannot get the days off this summer I wanted, mostly for Oshkosh, because of staffing.
    (I am also an incurable airport bum)

  33. Bob Says:

    Mark Robert,

    I think you should be getting the idea you don’t know shit from shinola on this subject. Doug Church should be on your must call list before you spout off any more FAA propoganda.

  34. Dave Whisnant Says:

    Not all your readers look at the comments. Do them a favor and do a follow up on this story with some truth in it.

  35. Don "Crude" Craig Says:

    Mr. Mark, I was gong to respond but after reading the above posts from all the “active” controllers, I could not have stated it any better.

    I am waiting for you to respond with a followup post on this subject.

    Don Craig

  36. Scott C. @ K90 Says:

    Pilots have all kinds of time restrictions imposed on them by the FAA. Do you think the average airline pilot would want to fly more, and earn more O.T. if gien the choice? Do you think they would know when to quit, when they were past thier limits? Better yet, would airline executives try to exploit this to make up for a shortage of pilots? Can we assume that without limitations on flying time these same bean counters might force pilots to fly even if they said they didn’t feel that they could perform thier flying duties in a safe manner?

    I think I would have dug a little deeper before I wrote an article like this. Maybe Bobby is right for once. Myself, I’d like to see the percentage of volunteers at the facilities that have declared “emergencies.” And if his numbers are correct, does that make it right? Well, you know what they say about Federal Aviation Regulations…They are written in blood.

  37. Mark Blanchard Says:

    Mr. Mark

    As a controller for 26 years at New York Center I am not on the “No OT” list and I like getting overtime money. After working an 8 hour day and getting paid for 8 I relish working an 8 hour day and getting paid for 12. I prefer working 3 overtimes every two months. With our severe shortage of controllers I worked a ton of overtime last year, too much, way too much. At one point I worked 14 straight weeks of overtime. The amount of overtime was far outside my parameters of a comfort zone and the increase of fatigue was and still is dangerous. Around the tenth week of the aforementioned stretch I realized that my summer was slipping away and I did not get to enjoy any of it. What are the alternatives?

    If we were all on the “No OT” list, the overtime would be assigned by reverse seniority and the kids would be assigned 52 straight weeks of overtime. I do not want to do that to my co-workers.

    If management opted not to order anyone to work overtime, I would have to work combined positions and/or work two and a half hours on position. Neither option is appealing and both options create more danger and fatigue then a sixth work day.

    Rather than work at 150% of my capacity for 5 days, I would prefer to work at 125% of my capacity for 6 days even though it will mean that I will miss summer again in 2008.

    -Mark Blanchard

  38. Steve Pearsall Says:

    I am a controller at Traverse City, MI. (TVC) We have no voluntary overtime list. 3 years ago I had 10 controllers, 2 supervisors, 1 manager and a part time secretary.
    Today I have 6 controllers, 1 trainee, 1 sup, 1 manager and a part time, soon to be full time secretary. In previouse years we have not used more than 20 hours of overtime. In the last 60 days alone, we have used almost 70. If you extropolate this increase out over the rest of the year we will be over 420 hours. I submit to you that you cannot go from 20 hours annually to over 400 and NOT HAVE A STAFFING PROBLEM! At this facility we do not volunteer for overtime, it is assigned!

  39. D Says:

    The point is not volunterry or not. The point is why in the hell is all this overtime being paid out? The answer…. the guys trying to run this agency have NO CLUE what the hell they are doing.

    We have been screaming since the late 90’s people need to be hired because of retirements. What did they do? Patted themselves on the back and got lots of bonuses for, well, i’m not sure what for. They stuck their inept heads in the sand and did nothing. If i failed to do my job like they did, not only would i not get a bonus, i would be fired.

    It is very clear to me and every controller in the country these hirings are 4 to 5 years late at a minimum. I have no idea why Blakey and her cronies sat on their hands when it was obvious this was coming. They either did not care or are inept, or both.

    This is beyond an irritation for controllers. It will start impacting safety and affecting the economy with slowed traffic.

  40. Paul Cox Says:

    You raise a fair point. I’ll tell you what- here’s the challenge that NATCA should make to the leaders of the FAA.

    Allow controllers to refuse to work overtime. If they don’t want to work it, they don’t have to, period.

    Make the only exception for public safety- like for a lifeguard flight or critical (ie, not training) missions of national defense.

    The FAA would NEVER allow this, because they know perfectly well that NATCA would immediately encourage its controllers to turn down overtime (which, if the union tried to encourage right now, could be termed a “job action”- with the same results as the PATCO strike in 1981) and the flow of traffic at several major hubs (think ATL, ORD, the NY area, etc) would slow to a crawl thanks to a lack of controllers.

    Besides which… well, you know what? I’m going to write a blog entry on this subject. Check out the Follies. ;)


  41. Mark Harris Says:

    Like other facilities, mine has a list of those who prefer overtime and those who don’t. I’ve always been on the “non-preferred” list but it doesn’t matter. Like “Dave” above, I was assigned around 140 hrs of overtime last year because our controller staffing has been gutted. I don’t want overtime. The faa cannot pay me enough to miss out on time with my wife and kids. Management has realized rather quickly that calling people at home won’t net them O/T volunteers because we simple don’t answer our phones any more. Caller ID and answering machines are great. So they dump the overtime on us by publishing it in the work schedule. They do not care if you are on one column or the other on the overtime call-out binder, preferred or non-preferred, everyone gets overtime. I don’t really care if you and your readers “get it”, but the FAA always has and always will skew the facts. I’ve grown weary of having to “s’plain” to my wife and kids why daddy only gets one day a week off, cannot get leave to be there for birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals, camping trips, fishing trips, picnics, BBQ’s, dance recitals, soccer games and such, why this year we can’t go anywhere for spring break because I cannot get leave – all due to inadequate staffing and FORCED, MANDATORY 6-day work weeks. You can’t go anywhere or to anything on your one day off! After reading all these replies, are you starting to get the “flick”? We’re overworked in a high-stress environment with a whopping 4 days off per month. How many days a month are you pilots getting? This FAA administration has destroyed the NAS and I don’t appreciate you accusing controllers of “talking out both sides of [our] mouths”. You appear to be buying the Faa’s pack of lies and that’s a shame. Bad things are gonna start happening, my friend. Not because any controller intends to have a bad day, but because we’re human, we’re not perfect, and we are being asked to do too much with too few. Do the math.

  42. ATC Overtime; FAA & Controller Perspectives - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinon Says:

    […] week I questioned why both the FAA and the GAO were publishing information that claimed controllers were volunteering for overtime at the same moment NATCA was on the Hill […]

  43. The GAO’s Credibility on Aviation and ATC; Not Much, Who Cares - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinon Says:

    […] Then a month ago the GAO released another report about airport runway safety. Contained within those pages were the infamous notes about how much of the air traffic controller workforce was actually volunteering for overtime rather than having it assigned. Reading that report is what made me ask those NATCA folks what the heck was going in my Valentine’s Day post. […]

  44. 387 Days To Go Says:

    I was walking out the TRACON door on my Friday afternoon. The Operations Manager stopped me and asked if I would like to work overtime on my Sunday. I said NO THANK YOU since I had plans with my family. He said no…thank YOU, you are now assisned a 2pm shift since no one else was available. Yep…I volunteered.

  45. Stranger Than Fiction Says:

    When you have a fool for an advisor you act on foolish advice. I think I made that up but if I stole it, my apologies.

    There is no “volunteer” list. Go read the “contract” at http://www.faa.gov. Go and read the last ratified Agreement at http://www.natca.net. The “list” that is being referred to is a list of people that have “indicated a desire to work overtime.” Doesn’t say how much or how little. Doesn’t say that you will work every overtime opportunity that comes down the road. The Agreement even says that if I can’t find someone to replace me and still can’t work the specific shift, the Agency can relieve me of the assigned overtime. This is all part of the shiny, happy, fantasyland the the wanna-be Administrator lives in. The same fantasyland that is filling up with ignorant masses that accept the spin of the FAA as truth. By listening to Bobert you run the risk of knowing even less than he does about air traffic control.

    If you question Bobert, you might actually discover the truth. It’s the controller’s decision as to whether or not they can accept an overtime and fatigue is only one factor that enters into that decision. If you take an overtime on Sunday and make a mistake on Friday is the overtime to blame? Could be. If you take an overtime on Saturday after working the previous 5 days and make a mistake that shift? Could also be, but remember you can’t make a mistake when you’re not there.

    The FAA can’t even make a statistic out of this. Or maybe they just refuse to. Next time you want to get an answer from Bobert, get the real one. Is it safe? And can you explain safety as a function of voluntary/involuntary overtime in relation to time spent on position by disgruntled employees when compared to the increase in retirements and inexperienced trainees being placed in the most complex facilities we have?

  46. skyhack Says:

    Overtime. There’s a two-edger!
    Our facility assigns overtime first to those who have expressed interest in working OT. The trouble with that is that such people get tired of working OT every week, and don’t pick up the phone when the caller ID says “FAA”. Management then assigns it to whoever is foolish enough to pick up the phone.

    When they finally get their numbers (down from 16 fpls in 1995 to 8 cpcs and 2 devs presently in my area),they get to brag to the OMICs that there’s no shortage in the area!

    We’ve had a cpc have an error on his 7th consecutive working day, due to call in overtime, and our QA conveniently found it to not be a contributing factor!

    They top this with tin-badge dictators staffing the area to chairs, seemingly to ensure over 3 hours on position.

    Damn, I wish I could afford to retire!

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