Controllers United...
Where they are now.
Robert Harris
Controllers United

THANKS to All who have helped the Controllers United advocacy effort become an effective voice for former controllers. While the fight to return as many people as possible continues it is helpful to pause to evaluate just where we are today, where we are headed and the challenges we face.

AFL-CIO ResolutionThe Controllers United advocacy effort gained the support of the labor federation at the recently concluded 21st AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention in New York. For the first time, since the 1981 debacle, organized labor has offered a resolution in support of returning former controllers to work in meaningful numbers. It is important to note that this support did not come to us, we earned it through our advocacy efforts during the past three years.

Special thanks to Joan Harris and John Leyden for their pivotal help at the convention. Ron Carey, Teamster President, and patron to Controllers United, deserves our deep appreciation for sponsoring the Fair Treatment of Former Air Traffic Controllers resolution. Thomas Donahue and Barbara Easterling, also, deserve our sincere thanks for helping to make it happen.

At the convention we met with the AFL-CIO leadership and nearly every delegate and alternate to press our case for their active support of the Controllers United effort to get our people back to work. Our discussions with John Sweeney, Rich Trumka and Linda Chavez-Thompson were helpful in laying the ground-work for their active involvement in supporting our advocacy goals with the Clinton Administration.

Since the convention, we have utilized labor's resolution calling on the Clinton Administration to move beyond the symbolism of our issue by contacting the President's of 110 National and International Unions and every state AFL-CIO leader with a follow-up request for action. Their response has been felt at the White House.

Support-White House Officials, Members of Congress and Labor Leaders recognize our organization as acting on behalf of fired controllers and this credibility enables us to affect upcoming decisions that will provide meaningful opportunities for the 4,551 controllers still hoping to return to work. We expect to meet with Administration officials to take part in final discussions on the substance and timing of a decision by President Clinton which is intended to provide us a fair shake at getting back to work. Clearly, this does not mean every eligible fired controller will return to an air controller job but former controllers will have, for the first time since the ban was removed, a real opportunity to compete for every available FAA job.

White House Update-Based on preliminary discussions with Clinton Administration staff, we expect the number of former controllers to be hired over the next ten months will fall far short of our expectation and the need at FAA facilities. We have not accepted this budgetary driven position as the final word and we have made our opposition to a continuation of the symbolism well known to White House staff. They, in response, have asked that we work with them in obtaining supplemental funding authority from Congress that will allow for additional hiring this fiscal year. While that effort goes forward, we can report that beginning in fiscal 1997 the picture brightens for former controllers, as we obtain a significant percentage of more than 500 positions per year for several years. While we work with administration officials to ensure that we are able to compete for every position available in the DOT / FAA, we will continue our efforts to shift the improved hiring prospects expected in fiscal year 1997 and 1998 to fiscal year 1996.

President Finds FAA Rehire Unacceptable-Former controllers have been rightfully disappointed by the progress and fairness of FAA rehiring since the ban was removed and President Clinton is reported to find FAA actions on rehire unacceptable. You would think that should be enough, however, despite the President's recognition that FAA officials have undermined the clear intent of his directive, we are not likely to get all that we seek because of budgetary constraints. FAA officials now agree that controller hiring will need to expand beginning in 1997 and we have asked the administration to provide a remedy for past practices by accelerating the agency hiring timetable.

The fairness argument is over according to White House staff and we now expect President Clinton will mandate action that ensures we are able to compete fairly for all jobs available. Our task is to gather political, labor and public support. This will enable the White House to instruct the Director of the Office of Manage-ment and Budget (OMB) to expand on the number of full time FAA employees (FTE's) permitted to work at the agency, so that safety work-force shortages are corrected. We will make a persuasive case with administration officials that despite competing budget pressures, this remedy should get their support; we will continue to focus on the negative aspects of failing to hire adequate numbers of controllers and technicians.

Hiring Controllers To Protect Air Safety- To make the process work to benefit not only former controllers but the broader public interest, a bit of background may be helpful. We have consistently supported the NATCA Union statement of February 17, 1994 in which air controllers warn of a declining margin of safety in the air traffic system, caused by a dire need for more controllers and aging and failing equipment. In January 1995, we were forewarned by FAA leadership not to play the so called safety card in furthering our goals. If we did speak out, the FAA would use the media to isolate our advocacy group. We told the FAA leadership that while we would not be shrill on the safety issue, we would maintain our principled argument and would support the controllers union view of the conditions within the air traffic system. Refusing to be minimized by FAA actions, we continued to speak out on safety issues utilizing information provided by unions representing controllers, pilots, flight attendants and other aviation related sources.

FAA Reaction-In response to the April 11, 1995 New York Times front page story on chronic controller shortages at N.Y. facilities, FAA officials threatened to cut up to 200 flights a day to New York airports in order to deal with staffing problems at New York Center & Tracon. Agency officials reversed course after getting a negative reaction from regional political leaders. This situation caught the attention of White House officials who were interested in reconciling previous FAA assurances that New York facilities were fully staffed, while the press reports chronic controller shortages. Since, we were perceived to have inspired the Times article and we had arranged the Congressional tour of New York Center on April 14, 1995, the FAA leadership decided to block my entry to the facility as part of the group tour.

FAA Credibility-Agency actions against Controllers United advocates became a pattern that continued until we complained to FAA Administrator David Hinson and asked for White House intervention to end the harassment of our group. In his written apology, David Hinson committed to ensuring that Controllers United advocates are welcome at FAA facilities.

FAA credibility has been seriously damaged by the record of equipment failures and media reports of chronic controller shortages. The FAA leadership attaches a great deal of value to media coverage of agency policies, particularly when that coverage is critical. Bottom line, the media criticisms and public skepticism of FAA policies have gotten the attention of the policy makers at the White House and these same officials seek our perspective before deciding FAA staffing issues.

FAA Game Plan-FAA leadership has recently attempted to minimize our resource value by arguing that we would not be cost-efficient and if hired we would be a drain on the pension system. The agency rationale for not allowing our return to work has run the gamut over the years. First they argued, we would be disruptive to a work-force that did not want us back. Then technology had passed us by with new equipment. Ever since Bill Clinton contemplated removing the ban, FAA bureaucrats have utilized the full staffing ruse. When that concept was discredited, by media reports, they were left to using budgetary constraints to block a meaningful rehire.

FAA officials sense their reduced credi-bility at the White House and they are shifting to what they see as a winner, the budget. The subliminal agency attitudes against rehire have been largely successful. Although, in recent months the White House staff has become more aware of FAA duplicity on our issue. It is the cumulative effect of agency inaction on rehire that the President finds unacceptable, particularly, since Clinton Administration political appointees run the FAA.

White House Decision-FAA actions on rehire have presented the President with a difficult decision, one that balances the safety needs of the flying public with budgetary constraints. Sacrificing safety work-force needs on the budgetary altar carries a real safety risk to the flying public and a political risk to the Clinton Administration. We have made our perspective on the issue of air safety crystal clear at every meeting with White House staff this year. Tom Donahue repeated that warning, in even more descriptive terms, in his first meeting with White House officials as the President of AFL-CIO on September 15, 1995. Suffice to say, the administration is accountable to not only labor's interest but the larger public interest that is well served by an adequately staffed air traffic system.

The Safety Argument-We continue to equate inadequate staffing levels with a potential reduction in air safety buffers that serve to protect the flying public. We have expressed to White House staff our belief that governmental failure to provide adequate controller and technician staffing levels, particularly when equipment is failing on a regular basis, will have unintended safety consequences that should outweigh budgetary considerations. The policy makers are well aware of the risks but the bean counters at OMB and elsewhere control the current agenda, at least until something goes wrong. Since March 1994 we have briefed four Congressional subcommittees on our resource value and the safety implications of inadequate staffing, most recently before the aviation subcommittee on September 28, 1995.

NATCA / AFL-CIO Affiliation-Those of you who have supported the Controllers United effort and kept in touch through the hot-line, know that we have reached out to the controllers union, NATCA, in an effort to improve our coordination and effectiveness. We continued that outreach effort by meeting with the NATCA executive board to discuss how best we can work together to get more fired controllers back on the job. Recent discussions with their national leaders have focused on the possibility of merging the Controllers United organization with their union. In any merger or affiliation, we will retain our autonomy to act in our best interest or we will simply not go forward. If a merger is not possible at this time, we have asked for NATCA support of our affiliation with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Such support is normally necessary before the AFL-CIO would approve such an arrangement (see IBT note below). Controllers United has been engaged in discussions with the new AFL-CIO leadership regarding the possibility of our group affiliating with the federation and their response has been positive and they have requested that we meet as soon as possible. Your viewpoint on this issue is requested and can be sent to Controllers United, POB 287, Selden, N.Y. 11784. Several years ago the Teamsters welcomed Controllers United interest in affiliating our group with their union but because of the prohibition against a union organizing members or potential members of other AFL-CIO affiliates, we mutually agreed the arrangement was not viable at the time. This week the Teamsters renewed their invitation to our group, subject only to the arrangement we make with the NATCA union.

The Challenge-We are facing challenges from all directions as we enter crunch time. The FAA intentions toward us are well understood by former controllers, it is only the tactics that change to reflect new political realities. Supporters of a meaningful rehire within the administration appear to have lost ground to the budgetary bean counters, a situation we are working to reverse.

Two former activists wishing to resurrect PATCO as a union asked that I lead our controller group into an affiliation with a Florida based federation of physicians and dentists. Our emphatic response was that such a move is counter productive to the best interests of fired controllers wishing to return to work. We believe adequate consideration has not been given to the utter destruction suffered by individuals and families at the hands of misguided union leadership in the past and our strong unwillingness to travel down that road again. Controllers United is about getting the survivors of the '81 debacle an opportunity to return to their profession and supporting legal challenges to our blacklisting that may benefit all fired controllers. We believe our best interest is served by our organization affiliating with NATCA, because such an arrangement will improve our effectiveness in returning additional numbers of former controllers to work. Let us know your perspective.

Despite the challenges and opposition, we continue on a path to get people back to work. That path will widen as we open the FAA up, facility by facility, to former controllers. We are fortunate that we have a dedicated group of people who never gave up the fight and that is why we continue to gain ground in our effort.

Controllers United Update-For the past several years, the weekly Controllers United hot-line has been our prime means of getting our message to you. Since April, 1995, we have utilized our 900-884-5252 hot-line number to provide timely information and you have, through your phone calls, supported our advocacy work. We appreciate your individual efforts in staying in touch and thank you for supporting the Controllers United effort. Our fight for justice continues. Because of the ever changing political winds in Washington, we have a compelling need to reach an understanding with the Clinton Administration that will ensure we have a decent opportunity to return to work which will survive the next election.

Legal-Finally, the blacklisting lawsuit in New York is on appeal and may be decided in January 1996. When you fill out the form below, we ask that you consider supporting the Controllers United legal fund. We have paid the law firm $27,000 thus far and need another $15,000 to complete our obligation. If we win the appeal and get an opportunity to depose some of the players involved in our debarment we will need to raise additional money for necessary depositions. If we fail on appeal, the Supreme Court would be our final option at additional cost.

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