Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Phone Call from DC

I cut my ride short today as my legs were feeling tired. I was in the shower when I heard the phone ring. I figured it was Tammy on her way home from work but she'd have to wait as I was all soaped up. A few seconds later Tammy is in the bathroom telling me that John Kline (our Congressman and neighbor) is on the phone. The soap will have to wait. I'd written John a few nights ago to express my frustration with FAA management and apparently he'd read my email. I routinely see him when I'm out walking Toby and Allie as he lives just down the street. I suppose I could have approached him and introduced myself then gone into the laundry list of complaints I have but that's not me. I outlined a brief description of my concerns then gave him a link to a recent post in my blog hoping he'd follow the link to learn more. He did.

He said he supported Natca's (Air Traffic Controllers' union) attempts to require the FAA to enter into binding arbitration but that he couldn't support HR2881 as it was too overreaching in its attempt to restore lost wages due to the imposed contract. He would like to see us given a chance at binding arbitration rather than have the FAA impose a contract upon us. I told him that at this point I'd be happy with binding arbitration and that I wasn't looking to be made whole through back pay if that's what it would take to have his support. We spoke for 5 minutes and there was so much more I'd love to have bent his ear about but I wasn't prepared for his call.

I intend to stop and introduce myself next time I see him. Until then I'll let this email I just wrote him fill in the blanks of what I wished I'd said in our talk today.

Mr. Kline,

We spoke on the phone early this afternoon. I'm Kevin Gilmore, the Air Traffic Controller who lives up the street from you. I must admit that your phone call caught me by surprise. I want to thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns for the FAA. I'm not a polished union representative and I don't have a full understanding of all that's occurring within management or Natca. I'm just an average guy with some thoughts about the government agency I work for.

I'd like to give you a few observations from one who works the traffic and my understanding of the dynamics at play between labor and management. The FAA has never been known as an agency with strong leadership or I should say, leadership which is respected. Being a controller isn't an occupation for everyone; in fact, a large percentage of new hires aren't successful. There are also those who make it through training and become certified controllers but they're not comfortable in the job. These people typically spend a minimum amount of time actually doing the job, oftentimes less than one year before moving out of controlling and into desk work which eventually leads to management. You can see where respect would be hard to come by for a person who puts themselves in that sort of position. Sadly, it's this person who makes up the majority of our supervisor ranks.

Ideally, we'd have our management ranks staffed with controllers who have been in the trenches actually doing the work and earning the respect of their fellow controllers over the years before becoming supervisors but that's seldom the case. Our management ranks have very few veteran controllers. I want to respect those in authority but I have a difficult time knowing that the person sitting in judgment of my performance was unable or unwilling to do what I do.

So, rather than cutting a person loose who is unable to continue in the position they were hired to do the FAA promotes them into supervisory positions and pays them even more. Not exactly a good recipe for creating a management team respected by the troops. And so the resentment is built into the system. It's been this way my entire career...going on 26 years. No doubt management would discount what I've just stated but believe me that it is true. Management isn't respected and they're resentful of that. It's a large part of what fuels much of the smackdown Natca is experiencing today. The resentment works both ways and has never been higher.

For nearly all controllers their pay has been capped for the 5-year life of the contract (for lack of a better word). Management has made no mention this time of following in our footsteps, say nothing of leading by example. I've spoken with my facility manager about this hypocrisy and he says there's a lot of red tape involved with reaching an agreement as to who within management should be included. I've written to acting FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell and expressed my frustration and concerns to him but I received no reply. I didn't want to bother you with this for fear that I would come off as sounding childish but what is happening in the FAA is wrong in so many ways.

Natca negotiated Pay Re-class back in '98 for which both controllers and management benefited. Actually, management simply hitched their wagon to what Natca negotiated. Part of this negotiation was Controller Incentive Pay (CIP). It was designed to attract controllers to higher cost of living areas. With the new contract CIP for controllers is being phased out while management continues to keep it for themselves. I personally never received CIP but this is but one example of the disingenuousness being displayed by management.

Another example happened two weeks ago when Rick Day, head of Enroute Operations flew to Los Angeles Center to congratulate them on their upgrade from ATC11 to ATC12. Los Angeles Center actually qualified for the upgrade 3 years ago but Rick Day personally halted the upgrade saying that he didn't trust the data. It turns out that the data was correct and Rick Day allowed the upgrade, however, the controllers who did the heavy lifting to make the upgrade possible won't be receiving the 6.7% pay raise but management will, in addition to the Presidential raise they received back in January which again, the controllers did not receive. Do you get a feel for what's happening out here? Can you understand my frustration?

John, this email to you is more than just me venting. I feel it's necessary for you to have an understanding of what is occurring aside from just what the FAA administrator will tell you—that we're a bunch of overpaid malcontents or words to that effect.

John, one last thing. New hires at the academy are being paid less than I was when I started in early 1982. Back then I was making a little over $16,000 per year plus per diem of around $35 daily while at the academy in Oklahoma City. The kids being hired today are making just a bit less than the 16K I was making and they're receiving no per diem. In addition to that, they're saddled with 70-100K in college debt for a degree the FAA required of them. The real kicker though is that because the FAA is struggling to find new people to take the job they've waived the college degree requirement for most.

It's not good what's happening to the FAA. I could go on about the conflict of interest surrounding Marion Blakey and her new position but I'll save that for later.

Again, thank you for the phone call today and your taking the time to read this. I look forward to introducing myself the next time I see you when I'm out walking my pups.


Kevin Gilmore

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