FAA Imposes New Work Rules
If your clearances are a little clipped, your handoffs a little brisk, it could be the controller working your flight is a little hot under the collar — the collar he or she likely now has to wear while at work. Now, it’s hard to tell if the agency was sending a message to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) or whether senior brass were oblivious to organized labor’s affinity for this particular statutory holiday but the FAA’s choice to impose hated new work rules on the Labor Day weekend was not lost on the union. “It’s like getting fired on Christmas. It’s the worst, punch-in-the-gut blow to the morale of this workforce imaginable,” said NATCA President Pat Forrey. “But our position is very simple: We do not consider the imposed work rules [which include a dress code] to be valid because they were not negotiated and have not been ratified by the NATCA membership.” Forrey took over the president’s post from John Carr on Sept. 1, about three months after the FAA imposed a contract on the union, ending almost a year of, at times, acrimonious negotiations. The union has vowed to fight the imposed contract but for now, at least, will have to live with it.
Looking Good, Even If They Don’t Feel Well
The contract clamps down on areas of alleged abuse by the union, including the entitlement to sick pay. Whereas controllers have, in the past, self-certified their medical fitness on a day-to-day basis, in addition to the mandatory medical checkups, the new rules appear to require supervisors to judge whether a controller can get through a shift. The union says safety will be compromised by forcing controllers to work when they say they don’t feel well or are too tired to. Another change apparently does away with the usual break after two hours on position. But perhaps what rankles controllers most, on a personal level, at least, is the formal dress code being introduced. Some controllers dress as if they work in windowless rooms where visitors aren’t customarily allowed but FAA brass have apparently had enough of flip flops, tank tops and cutoffs. As of Sunday, the glow of the screens will reflect off, as we understand it, collared shirts, dress slacks and shoes and socks. But it’s not like they’ll be able to show off their new-found nattiness. Another rule apparently bans controllers from leaving the facility during their shift.
What’s A Union To Do?
While the battle inside the towers and centers may (to outsiders) have its whimsical side, the practical impact of the new regime could be significant. NATCA appears determined to fight each and every violation of the new rules cited by management. In a memo to controllers at a major center (we do know which one), union leaders are urging members to exercise their rights to the letter. “If a supervisor tries to talk with you regarding the way your are dressed, it constitutes a formal meeting,” the memo reads. “Stop the conversation immediately and ask for a union representative. The same approach should be used on any other changes in your working conditions, ask for a rep immediately. The Agency has a legal obligation to comply.” But the memo also says the overall battle won’t be won by individual members discussing their fashion challenges. “One person alone can not change the course the agency has decided to take,” the memo says. “However, collectively we can unpave their course and start a new road. I and the rest of your elected leaders will need your help now more than ever.”