Sunday, September 23, 2007

Politics and More Thoughts/Rants About the FAA

Politically speaking, for better or worse as long as I can remember I've had a conservative tilt. I can recall voting for Nixon in my 6th-grade classroom's pretend election. I don't have any idea what it was about the man which had me pulling for him. Maybe I considered him an underdog as he was running against Hubert Humphrey from my home state and most everyone was rooting for the local guy. Humphrey lost the popular vote by only a few hundred thousand but the Electoral College results gave a clear victory to Nixon. Nixon would eventually leave the office in disgrace while my eyes were opened to the world of politics and corruption.

Politics is seldom win-win. There's always a price to be paid as you trade away one thing for another. Should I vote for the guy who will place conservative judges to the Supreme Court or do I vote for who I know will be the better choice for my job? In the last election, it came down to that. I got my conservative judges appointed with the election of Bush but I also got a union-busting president and I didn't want that. Kerry would have been the polar opposite in that he would have given us a much more liberal court while being a friend to unions.

I'm looking forward to seeing Bush gone. I've seen a side to him I didn't want to believe was there...maybe it's the dry drunk side which people occasionally make reference to. His appointments to run the FAA (my employer) rule through fear and intimidation and at some point you have to accept that they act at the direction of Bush and those with whom he surrounds himself. I'd like to think that Bush is out of the loop when it comes to much of what we're going through as Air Traffic Controllers but the more I learn the more I realize that he sets the tone and direction.

FAA Management operates with impunity while trampling over workers rights. It's a total smack-down of our union, Natca, and there isn't any end in sight. I have so little respect for anybody within management. We have controllers who were here 26 years ago during the days of Patco (the former Controllers' union which went on strike in August 1981) who say that these are much darker times than then.

There is a strong argument to be made that management is trying to force out higher seniority controllers, the ones who draw the most pay and replace them with new, cheaper controllers. I hate to use my blog to rant about work but that's sort of why I have a express my feelings...both good and bad.

In my frustration this past week I wrote a letter to Bobby Sturgell, the FAA Administrator. I have no illusions that my words will have any impact on the man but it was something I had to do. Here's my letter...

Mr. Sturgell, 9-17-2007

When Mr. Chew took the helm of the ATO he said he wanted to flatten the agency and open communications from top to bottom. I can only hope that he was successful.

I’ve been an Air Traffic Controller with the FAA since 1982. Nearly 26 years with the agency and I’ve got an exemplary record to stand on. Please don’t assume that I’m just another shrill Natca voice and discount my words. I take pride in the job I do and the effort I put into training new controllers who will someday replace me. I’ve never in my career been more disappointed in the direction the FAA is headed. What’s become of the agency I used to be proud and happy to serve? There was a time not long ago when management and controllers worked together to solve problems. Those days are sadly gone.

The FAA desperately needs leadership which is focused on creating a cohesive workplace. That should be our number one goal before we consider any of the other Flight Plan goals for without cohesiveness meeting our other goals becomes much more difficult.

It’s frustrating for me to watch as divisive tactics take their toll on the workforce. This week will see Rick Day and Joe Miniace visit Los Angeles ARTCC to congratulate them on their facility upgrade to ATC12. What monetary benefit will the workforce see from the upgrade? Zero. What will management see from the upgrade? I believe an additional 6.7% pay raise. Is it really necessary for Rick Day and Joe Mniace to waste taxpayer dollars to fly across the country to flaunt the new pay raise for management? No doubt the upgrade was put off until such a time when the people doing the real work of handling the traffic could not partake in the fruits of their labor. Sad. Their trip to the Palmdale facility is nothing more than a poke in the eye to the real workers who did the heavy lifting to make this happen. Is this what you call leadership?

I have concerns about the double standard, the injustice between management and controllers with respect to pay. We were told that costs needed to be brought under control. I was fine with that. Please explain for me how it is that the people in the trenches who put their careers on the line day in and day out are the ones carrying the load for cost savings while people in management watching from a safe distance continue to enjoy financial gains and are contributing zero monetarily in the FAA’s effort to contain costs.

I spoke with my facility manager today and he told me that bureaucracy and red tape had gotten in the way of instituting a pay cap for management. I’d like to believe that Garry wouldn’t lie to me but I have to wonder if Garry actually believed what he told me. How difficult can it be to do for management what was done to controllers? After all, management had no trouble hitching their wagon to Pay Re-class. Why the delay when there’s a change in direction?

As an aside I’d like to say that being a controller is not an easy job despite what you’re being told by former controllers who are now in management. Truth be told, the vast majority of our management ranks are filled with men and women who were marginal controllers and sought the shelter of a supervisor desk. Working traffic wasn’t for them. I’m fine with that but I’m not fine with having the work I do denigrated by those who couldn’t do it and now look down their nose at those of us who remain. I could go on with much more in regard to this topic but I’ll leave it at this—I’m in search of fairness, Mr. Sturgell.

I’ve read your bio and I must say that it’s quite impressive. We’re both former military men. I recall the movie, We Were Soldiers Once. Did you see it? There was a riveting point in the movie where Mel Gibson (playing the part of Colonel Harold Moore about to lead his troops into battle) says, "But I swear this, before you and before Almighty God. When we go into battle, I will be the first to step onto the field and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive we will all come home, together." That, Mr. Sturgell, is leadership. What we have parading as leadership in the FAA is nothing more than juvenile vindictiveness, fear, and intimidation. Not a desirable combination for bringing out the best in people.

I implore you to do what is right. Begin by treating us with respect. Show us that you really believe what it is you want us to believe, that we have to get costs under control. Leading by example is a powerful tool. Please use it. If a pay cap is good enough for the men and women in the trenches actually doing the job then it ought to be good enough for management. Lead by example. That’s all I’m asking.


Kevin Gilmore


David Bryan Gilmore said...

Hi Kevin,
I don't know what to say to you to ease your frustration. All of the media attention to the plight of air travelers and airline expansion seems to weigh heavily on the FAA. The management, the workforce and the equipment and system antiquation.
The administration is now asking for close to $200 billion to manage the Iraq war and continue and increase the support for the troops.
I heard this week and I don't know if it's accurate but it will take about $2 billion to get the FAA to where it needs to be right now.
Do you think we could take some of the money designated for the war effort and apply it to where it will have a tangible effect, safe, timely air travel?
I wonder how US business would be effected should one or two air disasters occur due to the limits of the FAA.
I look at the amount of active flights on the East Coast and cross my fingers that nothing bad happens.
I used to fly that corridor from Charlotte to New York and Boston almost every week. I watched many, many planes flying above and below my plane thinking that all is well, they know what they are doing. I'm actually afraid to fly these days. I used to look forward to getting on the plane and getting up above the clouds.
How things have changed.
I hope that things do get better for you and your fellow controllers.
Bush seems to be thinking along those lines this week. Time will tell.

Kevin Gilmore said...

I've lost a lot of confidence in Bush since we've last talked about him. There are some things he's done which I continue to support but they're being obscured by other important matters.

I don't think our union, Natca, has done a very good job of publicizing our plight. We seem to be in the shadow of all the negative public sentiment surrounding air traffic delays.

There was a Wall Street Journal editorial this past week which laid much of the blame for delays with Air Traffic Controllers. The editorial suggested that we're part of a work slow-down. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nowhere in the editorial did they interview a person who actually works the Air Traffic Controller.

I still love my job; it's the management people who make coming to work a job.

The Faa has also reclassified the way we report separation errors. They've loosened the standards so that management can show a reduction in the amount of close calls. It's called rebaselining and it's a scam.