Friday, September 7, 2007

Pondering Infinity and Failed FAA Management

Random thought time...When I was a kid I used to lay awake in bed at night and try to get my head around the idea of infinity. I used to imagine an ever extending universe where there was absolutely no end to it. Or I'd ponder the idea of forever...where there is never an end to time. How can it be that time will go on forever? The thoughts these ideas evoke can easily overwhelm my limited capacity.

One of the ways to visualize infinity is to imagine a center point within a circle with lines extending out every degree for 360 degrees to the edge of the circle. Fill the space in between each line with more lines extending from the center until you can't draw any more. Now, extend the lines beyond the edge of the circle and you'll see that more space develops between the lines as they get further from the center. Continue imagining this process over and over again and you get the idea. Infinity blows my mind. Random thoughts end here.

When I began working for the FAA in the spring of '82 my starting wage was something over $16,000 per year. The first few months of my employment had me at the academy for Air Traffic Control in Oklahoma City. While there I was also paid in addition to my base pay a per diem of around $35 per day. This money was to be used for living expenses while I was away from home. It was a generous amount which easily covered my expenses.

Fast forward 25 years to today and quite a lot has changed...for the worse. Academy students are unbelievably being paid less than I was when I was there at a rate just under $16,000 plus they're not receiving any per diem. It would be difficult enough to find a place to stay on a salary so small but being as they're away from home temporarily they still have their primary residence to pay for.

Imagine trying to support a family as a newly hired air traffic controller.

As of less than a year ago the FAA was requiring controller candidates to have a college degree. Most students spent between $70,000-100,000 for their education which is very limited in scope and would be difficult to do anything with but air traffic control. So, not only are they not paying new controllers a livable wage but these new hires are also saddled with enormous debt because FAA management believed a college education should be a requirement. Well, they used to anyway. As of a few months ago FAA management has decided that a college degree really isn't all that necessary as the available pool of college grads with an ATC degree has all but dried up with so many declining the job and moving on because of the imposed contract.

It sucks to be one of those who invested several years and tens of thousands of dollars only to be told that what they'd done wasn't actually necessary and then to add salt to their wounds tell them that the job for which they were told they'd be paid $100k and more per year will only top out at $40-80k. So many potential controllers have turned down controllers' jobs due to poor pay that the FAA has had to resort to hiring whoever they can get.

If you haven't read very deep into my blog you wouldn't know that I'm an air traffic controller and have been since 1982. Up until recently it's been a very rewarding career. I can't imagine doing anything else. Our union went into contract negotiations with FAA management two years ago. Through negotiations our union moved 1.9 billion dollars in the FAA's direction over the course of a 5 year contract. The FAA moved zero dollars toward our direction. There was no negotiating on their part. Impasse was declared and new work rules (FAA calls it a contract) were forced on us. It froze controller pay and created a B scale for new hires in addition to many other work rule changes. The FAA said it was all done in an effort to bring costs under control and that controller salaries were breaking the bank. That's fine...I'm listening...but what about management pay? Why has there been no mention of capping management pay when we are an organization top heavy with management? Imagine what FAA management could do to cut costs had they included themselves in all of this? What happened to leading by example?

I have a trainee at work whose name is Reid. Reid is one of those who paid his dues, literally, by getting the required college degree and is now trying to pay off his $70,000 college loans on his meager pay. He drives a 10 year old car and rents a room in a house with 2 other guys to try and make ends meet. He doesn't have money for a lot of extras. He was telling me of a talk given to his class in Oklahoma City by one of the heads of enroute air traffic operations. One of the students spoke up and asked this management person (I can't name him for fear of reprisal) if he had taken a pay cut as well. This person said that he didn't do this job for the money. Excuse me, sir, but what sort of an answer to the question was that? This person must be independently wealthy. I do it for the money as does he and everyone else. That's the only reason we show up every day. We do it for the money. Anyway, he went on to tell the class that if they didn't like it they could leave. Imagine if the entire class had gotten up and headed for the exits at a time when we're desperate to get new controllers into the system? But they are walking out of the auditorium so to speak...they're turning this job down in droves and the FAA is scrambling to try and fill their seats. I don't wish them any luck at all. They need to live with what their vindictiveness and shortsightedness has produced. Academy students are no longer allowed to pose questions about pay to management when they come to speak. I suppose they thought it unfair to allow questions they can't answer.

But forget all of that. Here's a little something I put together tonight...

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