Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?

The Beatings will continue until morale improves. I don't know who coined that phrase but I've heard it more than a few times since the FAA imposed its work rules (wrongly calling it a contract) on Air Traffic Controllers of which I'm one. Sure, it's a funny phrase because it sounds so absurd but there's a certain amount of truth in it.

I had a meeting with management on Tuesday where they gave me a letter of reprimand which they intend to put in my file. I have two weeks to respond in writing to the charges. I began to write a response but I never finished it as it became apparent that whatever words I'd write wouldn't change the outcome. They'd already heard whatever I had to say and they dismissed it all. The charges are baseless and the, um, investigation which followed filled me with an anger which concerned me.

I came home from work on Tuesday and Tammy didn't like what she saw in me. She did the best she could to convince me that I needed to let it go. It was eating at me and I was emotionally absent from both her and Rachel. Rachel mentioned to me how she'd been reading the Bible in the book of James where it talks about using difficult times to test your faith. Her words stuck with me as I kept pondering about how I was failing.

The next day I was talking with Rob in the control room while looking over at the supervisor (Doug) who brought the charge of insubordination against me. I could sense an anger in me that I knew I could neither let go of nor live with.

Some history...

My father was a financial manager with Control Data Corporation in 1985 when his division was bought out by a company called VTC. The year prior to the buy-out my father had received a distinguished achievement award from his division. I remember that it was an important accomplishment. He was just a few years away from retirement when he was forced out of Control Data and acquired by VTC. He didn't have any say in the matter. Within one year VTC would fire him. I don't know all the particulars as to why he was fired but I think a big part of it was his age and pending retirement which VTC would be on the line for. My dad filed a lawsuit against VTC for age discrimination. The suit would eventually end in failure with my dad settling for the cost of his attorney's fees. The firing and lawsuit left him a bitter, broken and angry man. I can't say that he ever got over it. I remember telling myself that I would never allow anger and resentment to rule my life the way he allowed it to.

As I sat there looking at Doug I was getting a glimpse of the anger my dad must have felt. It wasn't a good feeling and I knew it had to stop. It seemed to me that continuing the fight was going to do nothing to help the matter and only anger me more. I was in the process of burning down my house to kill a rat.

I decided the only course of action I could live with was to approach Doug and tell him that we needed to do whatever was necessary to move forward. And so I did. I got up from talking with Rob and walked over to Doug and asked him if we could talk for a couple minutes. I told him I was holding onto a lot of anger and resentment about the way the entire process played out but that I needed to move forward. I told him that I would accept responsibility for whatever role I played in allowing our altercation to escalate to the point it did and that I would hope we could work together.

He accepted what I had to say and agreed with me that we needed to work together but interestingly I don't recall that he ever took ownership of his role in the altercation. I suppose that's to be expected as I can't recall a time when FAA management ever took responsibility for their failures and that list is long and unending.

Doug suggested that I tell his boss what I'd just told him as he felt it would go a long way toward minimizing the extent of disciplinary action against me. That wasn't a concern of mine; relieving myself of the anger I'd been feeling was.

Later, I did see Pat (his boss) on the way out of the control room and repeated to him what I'd told Doug. I stressed that I was disappointed that we couldn't as adults have come together early on, checked our egos and talked about what had happened. He agreed. I told him that I came into work the morning following the incident intent on doing exactly that but the disciplinary process was already underway. Doug had jumped the gun and filed charges against me and in his haste (in my opinion) totally disregarded the first step in conflict resolution; talking. I don't know a thing about protocol when it comes to these matters but it appeared to me that the process was too rigid and lacked common sense.

There's no question that I let go of my anger through the course of talking with Doug and Pat. It wasn't a matter of me telling them that they were right and I was wrong because that wasn't my intent nor what I did. My intent was to let them know that I no longer wished to invest any more of myself in the matter and that I was moving forward and not looking back. I told them that they could do whatever they felt necessary with respect to the letter of reprimand but that I didn't intend to respond to it.

I'd made peace with myself.

I went to find our union president to tell him what I'd done but he wasn't in his office. I emailed him and a couple other reps who had been helping me with the matter to tell them what went down and why. I knew they wouldn't be happy and they weren't.

Their response was that management will feel this is a win for them because I threw in the towel. My giving up will only embolden them to continue operating as they are and that is wrong. By letting go I've done nothing to help the next guy who comes along and falls into the same trap I did. The case with me is a solid one for Natca (my union) as I've got an unblemished 26 year career to stack up against management's baseless case against me.

They're right.

Natca intends to push this matter with or without me as it's a solid case and an important one. I do owe it to my union to do whatever I can. I have to find a way to walk that fine line between being involved and not getting sucked in. I intend to try. Should we fight this and my name is cleared that would be a bonus. I'm no longer emotionally invested in it and that's how it has to be. I'll do whatever my union needs me to do. I'll go before our facility manager and explain to him what happened if it will help. I'll write or talk to whomever they want me to. It will just be that my heart is in a different place as it has to be if that makes sense. I won't be doing it for me.

2 comments:

John said...

One of the reasons that I am no longer a Union rep (and won't be again) is that it causes me to be a person that I really don't like. It is unfortunate that the only way to deal with management is to get down to their level of ugliness.

In many ways, I think that the whole labor movement took a step back when we tried to advance by doing the right thing. I think that management could benefit from the violence that once was used by labor.

Before becoming an air traffic controller, I worked at a factory where two different supervisors got beat up by an unknown assailant during the midnight shift. It seemed to have a more lasting effect than any grievance ever could. That ugly part of me would often like to return to that kind of labor/management relationship since it appears that only a bigger, badder bully is going get through to them.

I applaud your resolve to move on and turn the other cheek (as it were). The hardest part about the Christian walk is doing the right thing.

Kevin said...

I've got some excellent reps to work with. Not that I didn't appreciate all they do on a regular basis but this experience has given me a new appreciation for them.

From my perspective there is absolutely zero accountability within management ranks. A little objectivity is all I'm asking but that's apparently too much in today's FAA.

Hey, it can only get better...right? I'm not so sure any more.