Sunday, July 30, 2006


See No Evil.

If there’s one thing that NATCA President John Carr is good at, it’s ‘complaint.’ This is understandable once you grasp the reality of what passes for Human Relations in the FAA.

What is not excusable is when it crosses over into the realm of ‘hypocrisy.’ In his blog, Mr. Carr has been complaining steadily since July 17th about a shortage of controllers; nothing new, really. Aside from ‘cherry picking’ examples of ‘compromised safety’ (he ignores, for example, separation errors when half or more of the controllers have decided to take a break, or arranged featherbedding for overtime, or de-activate proximity alert systems…) it would be nice for his argument if the FAA were solely to blame. Yet NATCA had an active part in this story as well.

Item 1 - In a contract negotiation long ago in an administration far, far away, NATCA insisted on new ‘bidding’ rules for open controller position in towers and centers. Without going into minute detail, it revolved around a new scheme of awarding ‘points’ for time in Air Traffic Control positions. This necessitated the drafting of a new job ‘bid’ form that minimized the ability of Controllers in Flight Service to obtain positions in towers and centers. What used to be commonplace became increasingly rare. Eventually, novices off-the-street had a greater chance at these positions than any who were more experienced, but in the ‘wrong’ Air Traffic option.

Item 2 – When Flight Service was contracted out to Lockheed Martin last year, Mr. Carr cried the expected crocodile tears and stated that these controllers should be welcomed into towers and centers with ‘open arms.’ This sentiment apparently didn’t make it down to the facility level; word got back to us on more than one occasion from acquaintances in towers and centers that if any Flight Service Controllers reported for training, they’d be washed out as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that, from all available accounts, Flight Service controllers have had a greater success rate in completing training than those from other sources.

To be sure, a few Flight Service controllers have been able to run the joint NATCA/FAA gauntlet and secure controller positions in other facilities. But for someone who constantly whines about a lack of experienced people coming in, Mr. Carr is unforgivably selective in his angst.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Advantage, Lockheed

When NAATS lost the contract vote, union President Kate Breen stated that she would “never understand the no vote.” We posted a bit before about what NAATS (and the AFSS Newsgroup) did wrong in this particular fight. But what did Lockheed Martin do right?

Lockheed’s head of AFSS operations, Dan Courain, made a large number of visits to facilities to pitch his case. One item that stuck out to many that we’ve talked to is that under a union shop, there would be no more direct access to higher-ups in LM like him. Everything would have to be done through union channels. By itself this seems to be of little import, but there can be no doubt that LM has responded when controllers have made legitimate complaints. Since taking over, we’ve heard of three facility managers given a well deserved sacking. LM has not put up with bad facility management the way the FAA did.

While certainly not a universal feeling among controllers, our pulse-taking seems to affirm that Lockheed-Martin is a more reasonable employer than the FAA was. The union vote makes this observation self-evident.

Secondly, LM made a shrewd tactical move by agreeing to a quick, immediate vote on the issue, rather than take part in a long drawn-out court battle over union succession. Our view is that LM was likely to lose such a case, so the ‘road taken’ may have been a relative no-brainer. But taking a union vote at this time yielded an advantage; there will never be a larger share of FAA retirees in the Service than there are now. Such individuals are less likely to be disgruntled over their current circumstances. Indeed, by garnering both an FAA retirement and equal compensation for continuing to do the same job, this worker segment has never had it better. They also feel they have the option to leave the job at any time, given their annuity income.

All this is not to say that working for LM in Flight Service is, or will continue to be, all beer and skittles. There are a number of challenges LM has to overcome, with long-term doubts about their commitment to maintaining the legacy facilities (a limited sampling indicates that at least half of controllers believe the legacy stations will start closing during the second five years of the ten year contract). But the doubts were not large enough to counter the image and actions of LM to date.

Monday, July 10, 2006


The Envelope Please…

The Air Traffic Controllers at the nation’s Fight Service Stations have cast their ballots and the results are in. To the question of continuing NAATS as their bargaining unit representative, 1056 ballots were cast; 431 voted ‘yes’ and 598 voted ‘no.’ America’s AFSSs are now officially union-free.

We’ve refrained from electoral comment for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that this blog is meant to contain observation, not campaigns. Still, a post mortem yields some interesting thoughts and conclusions as it relates to the path we’ve trod over the last few years and to the future we might be able to anticipate.

Our first conclusion is that NAATS was trounced in this vote because of their own ineptitude. President Kate Breen has stated that “I will never understand the no vote.” Perhaps we can help. We noted before, during the contracting-out of AFSS, that NAATS seemed incapable of disseminating its side of the story. That was the case here as well. Interested parties at the facility level had trouble getting answers to their questions, and it’s not good enough to say ‘Well, they could have e-mailed through the web site!’ It is still unclear to many, for example, if all controllers would be forced to join the union and pay dues. Top-down organization was needed to present the Controllers the reasons to vote for NAATS, and that effort did not seem to materialize (or even be conceived). Kate Breen, God bless her, is hard working and dedicated to the cause, but her talents do not extend to this kind of battle.

Corollary to this was our critique of Dan Hart’s restriction of the NAATS newsgroup, further constricting the flow of information (“We have met the enemy…” 12/30/05). We’re in no position to say that an ‘open’ policy by Mr. Hart would have guaranteed an 84 vote swing in the result (and a win for NAATS), but that’s less than 7% of the eligible vote, a small enough margin to sway with a couple good choices. Freezing out NAATS members who were active in the cause, but chose to stay on the sidelines until NAATS made its case was, without question, a bad choice. Rather than see the ‘big picture,' Mr. Hart tried to create some sense of ‘benefit’ for paying ‘dues’ to NAATS. But in the end, this attempt was a stunt that accomplished worse than nothing.

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