Controllers Quitting To Find Paying Work

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Air traffic control personnel are resigning to seek other work after a month without pay and a union representative told CNN on Monday he expects more to come. "They will resign. They will go get outside jobs,” a National Air Traffic Controllers Association Atlanta rep said in an interview with Don Lemon on Monday. NATCA officials say they’re aware of resignations that are a direct result of the shutdown and are calling on all branches of the government to get the government open again. The union released a hand written resignation from a Madison, Wisconsin.

In the letter, the trainee says he can't hang on any longer and needs to find another job and he says he likely won't be the last. "I worry that I may not be the last developmental forced to resign from an already understaffed facility," the letter reads. Controllers are among 800,000 essential employees working without pay and for the first month there has been pride in maintaining safety under the circumstances. But as they and the other workers anticipate missing a second paycheck next week the cracks are starting to show and NATCA says they’re already short of staff. Complicating matters is the fact that the training academy for controllers in Oklahoma City is also closed, meaning there will be a serious disruption in the flow of new trainees. Click "Download File" below to read the PDF copy of the letter.

Comments (23)

At my own peril, I'm going to take a hard stand on this subject ... and marry the QOTW to it. "Would Controllers and TSA Workers Be Justified in Staging a Work Action Because of No Pay?" I aim my comments at the Controllers, only. TSA workers operate under different rules.

I see that "Yes" and "No" votes on the QOTW are about equally split.

The reasons behind the government shutdown notwithstanding as a totally separate subject, controllers make a lot of money. They get to retire at ridiculously young ages with lucrative retirements. Somehow, after two missed paychecks, some of them have to go work as Walmart greeters or "quit" to find alternative work to pay their bills? IF this is true ... I question what kind of people are doing this? They can't manage to find personal funds after just two missing paychecks, know they'll be ultimately paid (and surely won't turn THAT down) but have to find "alternative work." Give me a break. No sympathy here. Get yo' butts back to work. You knew the rules that you are employed under. Suddenly because of a couple of lagging paychecks you have to move on or throw a hissy fit or get "sick." I think NATCA is using this opportunity to hold the population hostage or scare them.

I sniff some Lugenpresse in this story. If PATCO didn't like what President Reagan did in 1981 ... NATCA won't like what President Trump will do if they add to the current havoc. Be careful what you ask for ... you might just get it NATCA. Get command of your people or you, too, will become irrelevant.

Now then ... I have to take cover ...

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 22, 2019 5:02 AM    Report this comment

While it's always a good idea to have 3-6 months of pay saved in an "emergency" fund, this whole situation of work without pay points to a bigger problem with any federal position.

How can we try to recruit smart leaders to take a career as an Army officer, or the best scientists or engineers to work at NASA, or any other position that is paid by the federal government? Anytime somebody considers a job position or career, they will now have to consider the very real chance that they may go weeks (months?) of working without pay. Some percentage of the best and brightest will take that as a tipping point to work in private industry instead, and our country will be worse off for it in the long run.

Personally, regardless of current political persuasion, I support the idea of an automatic continuing resolution law so that federal worker pay can't be used as a poker chip by politicians anytime they reach an impasse. But I don't know if that idea is popular yet.

Posted by: John Bumgarner | January 22, 2019 6:38 AM    Report this comment

Larry said, "I think NATCA is using this opportunity to hold the population hostage or scare them."

I don't see the logic in this. Neither NATCA nor us peons have the power to reopen the Federal government, so what does NATCA stand to gain by holding the population hostage?

Whether you agree Federal workers should plan for the sort of incident or not, the fact is the whole situation for these people is a monumental hassle, not to mention the added stress of wondering whether your savings or access to loans will outlast p---ing contest. Do we really want to ADD stress to the already stressful job these controllers do?

The pain these people are feeling notwithstanding, as an independent voter I can't help but marvel that no one seems to notice (at least not enough to comment) the radical, 180-degree position changes by the major parties. The previous (recent) government shut downs were perpetrated by Congressional Republicans objecting to government spending by a Democratic president; this one is Congressional Democrats objecting to government spending by a Republican president. If this proves anything it should be clear BOTH parties want to spend our money, they just can't agree on what they should spend it on. Meantime, despite the partisan bickering and seeming inability to get anything done legislatively, we keep finding ways to add to the Federal debt.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | January 22, 2019 7:38 AM    Report this comment

Larry makes a good point about wondering why one month of missed pay for an FAA controller means they are in financial difficulty when they earn quite a generous pay. But on the other hand, regardless of how much money I earn, if I had to still show up to work to do my job while going a whole month without pay, I too would seriously look in to quitting and going somewhere that gave me a reliable paycheck. So in that sense, I don't blame these controllers for quitting over this. I've left good paying jobs before because the downsides of it outweighed the positives.

As for who is responsible for this particular shutdown, the only input I'll add is that there was a Republican spending bill ready to pass, but which never came for a vote in the Senate because the President signaled he'd veto it and the Senate majority leader therefore refused to hold a vote. And he continues to delay on holding any vote until the President decides he'll sign a bill that contains what he wants. That's not how "separation of powers" and "co-equal" government is supposed to work. It's possible we would be in the same situation if the parties were reversed, but that's not the real problem.

The real problem is what John mentioned: that government employees are allowed to be held as political bargaining chips. That HAS to change, or we're just going to find ourselves in this same situation at some point down the road. And maybe staging a "sick out" or whatever and actually bringing airport security and ATC services to a halt will change things. Or then again, in today's hyper-partisan world it might just make things worse...

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 22, 2019 9:40 AM    Report this comment

None of us are qualified to criticize any person for their choice to balk at working without receiving a paycheck. Regardless of how much they make every person's/family's situation is different. We don't know what financial pressures they have or what resources they have to live without income. To make is worse, none of these people know when (or if) then end of the stalemate will come.

Government employees quitting to find income is free market at work. We, the voters, must realize that public servants are not pawns and make sure our elected officials do not use them as such. 100% of the fault is with US - the voters.

Posted by: Unknown | January 22, 2019 10:17 AM    Report this comment

When missing two (or four) paychecks results in a person leaving their ATC career, I question their commitment to that career.

Posted by: kim hunter | January 22, 2019 11:19 AM    Report this comment

"When missing two (or four) paychecks results in a person leaving their ATC career, I question their commitment to that career."

Would *you* stick around at work for 5 weeks without pay? Ultimately, people work because they need an income.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 22, 2019 1:04 PM    Report this comment

You have to do what is best for yourself.. If that means walking off the job to pay your bills.. Well then, so be it.. This is what having a 100% guaranteed government job is all about.. There are no guarantees of anything.. To all government workers, you should be ready for more of this from this moment going forward..

Posted by: Tom O'Toole | January 22, 2019 2:04 PM    Report this comment

My bet is that controllers who quit are pretty far away from retirement and may not be willing to stay if this is the state of a federal career.

Posted by: John Randall | January 22, 2019 3:38 PM    Report this comment

On one hand it is hard to feel sorry for government employees but on the other I can sympathize not getting paid due to my own experience dealing with a bankrupt employer who did not pay for the last payroll. There is a federal law about getting paid minimum wage and I hope the lawsuit NATCA filed succeeds in getting at least that amount. Not much anyone can do if an individual decides that resigning to find work that actually pays a wage is necessary. No matter what anyone thinks of our current president, he won the election fair and square according to our Constitution. It is about time that the career politicians in congress on both sides of the aisle get over it and do their jobs. They don't have to live with him, only work with him to get this shutdown over with!

Posted by: matthew wagner | January 22, 2019 4:56 PM    Report this comment

I read the personal letter from a 'trainee' that hasn't quantified yet. Why are there negative comments against this one man, to label all air traffic controllers will paid? A trainee that resigned is the main point of this article. No other controllers are mentioned, yet. Jumping to conclusions of well paid controllers when they're still government employees does not make them rich. A trainee will not start off with a six figure salary and anyone dumb enough to assume so is basically jealous and misinformed. Would anyone want a junior controller handling JFK, LGA, SFO, MIA, Chicago, LA? Trainees are not qualified when they pass and most likely start at the bottom with possibly $50k, not six figures. Senior controllers with several years (or more) attain seniority then may choose to work busy airports but earn that right under supervision. I don't want a kid out of college or high school directing any aircraft until he or she earns the experience and rated capable by fellow controllers that work as a team. No one can work ATC unless they're experienced from military exposure or pay their dues passing rigorous training before sitting down in front of a radar system observing hundreds of commercial and private aircraft all wanting attention. Anyone assuming controllers have it easy don't know anything about the seriousness of air traffic controllers. The worst incident was 9-11-01 when no one imagined commercial aircraft were hijacked, two flown into the the twin towers of the World Trade Center, flying one into the Pentagon and another heading for Washington D.C. until it was overtaken before harming more citizens. No air traffic controller was ever prepared for this horrendous incident. And as a team across the USA, every controller that day emptied the USA airspace except for Air Force One. No other period in history has this been done yet controllers brought every airplane down. That's dedication and team work no amount of money can pay for.

This bickering is political and nothing more. This trainee resigned most likely because he does not have several months rent or mortgage money. This was a difficult choice for one individual that was likely to succeed and have a career with a salary commensurate with experience. Government jobs are secure with generous health plans this young(?) man decided to forego due to a sitting president that can't manage anything, separating a federal budget from his Wall agenda. One person resigned. No one else is mentioned. Stick to the facts, not assume well paid people are quitting and can't save a few weeks or few months of salary to tide them and their families in this political fiasco. How can a well paid employee resign? That's as ridiculous as the tooth fairy among adults.

Posted by: Fred Dryer | January 22, 2019 6:48 PM    Report this comment

Can we stop with the disingenuous "work without pay" nonsense? As someone with an involuntary deferred paycheck while doing "essential" work (non-FAA) I can say this is hogwash/lazy reporting. Not only will we get paid but by there was a bill passed to pay those on "furlough" as well once a budget is passed. I can understand that some could have cash flow issues but there are programs to help if one wants assistance. No doubt NATCA is trying to score political points. They are aware of resignations, give one resignation letter (hand written on notebook paper?!), and vague threats of more in the future. Does someone resign from a potentially lucrative job solely due to present temporary financial hardship or is there more to the story?

John Bumgarner- I highly doubt the shutdown has any significant impact on deciding to be employed by the government. If one has a choice between SpaceX (or ULA or similar) or NASA I reckon most will go with the organizations that are actually doing something interesting which doesn't seem to be the government at this point in time. If the wages are within reason then the interesting job wins out every time.

Posted by: Edward Erisman | January 22, 2019 7:25 PM    Report this comment

@Larry - First of all, almost 80% of the U.S. workforce lives paycheck to paycheck so it's easy to consider that 80% of controllers do too. That being said, Air Traffic Controller pay is not equal. One's pay is dictated by facility level which is derivative on the operations worked.

Trainees make absolutely nothing in comparison to certified controllers. Picking out financial well being and trying to make some low handed condescending remark about how controllers "should" be living is just out rightly wrong. The point of the article is in the HUMAN IMPACT of holding an employee hostage for a political agenda...PERIOD.

No employee of any agency, corporation, or small business should ever be forced to work without regular pay disbursement or without an expectation of when they might receive their due pay.

No employee should ever be used as a pawn to gain an advantage regardless of employer.

The downright ignorant comments in this article are astounding. What does being a government employee have anything to with their right to receive earned pay IAW with Labor Law and/or support their family?

Put your stupid condescending thoughts aside and think about if you were in the situation of working and not receiving your check....gas money...food...insurance premiums, etc....
Or furloughed to obtain an agenda. Yes we will get back pay...but when? Take your paycheck don't touch it....and live off your savings for the same amount of time we are and continue to do so. Then come back here and repeat those non-empathetic garbage sentences.

Regarding work action(s); The Federal Service Labor Management Relations Act of 1978 prohibits federal workers from striking(work action) Penalties range from termination to jail time.

Posted by: Kevin K | January 23, 2019 5:19 PM    Report this comment

So how many controllers actually are quitting? I bet a very small number. (Yes I do have *some* sympathy for them.)

However, banks are offering to loan them money against the pack pay. President Trump already has signed legislation that will give all federal workers back pay so what they're really getting is a slightly delayed paycheck. Furloughed federal workers (including FAA Inspectors) are getting a free vacation.

BUILD THE WALL!

Posted by: Bob Toxen | January 23, 2019 6:42 PM    Report this comment

I don't think many are quitting. Again the article is talking about a trainee/developmental. These people are not paid very much and most are either straight out of college or the military. Veterans that already sacraficed quite a bit to get where they are, spent money to travel across the country for that job only to be either furloughed or continue to work without pay. I know we will eventually be back paid but when? This thing has no end in site. You want me to go get a loan that I can't afford to pay back? Fine so then when the loan is due and I still haven't been paid for my work then what? I'm spending money out of my pocket to help keep the air traffic system running. Is that how this is supposed to work? By the way I support the wall and I Support Trump, but don't pretend that we aren't being used as pawns in this game. This is immoral to treat people like this. It's gone on long enough and it needs to end.

Posted by: Bryan Caldwell | January 24, 2019 7:41 AM    Report this comment

The instant I see CNN and Dumb Lemon, I automatically relegate the story in its entirety to file 13. Tell Polosi to get off her psycho ass and make a deal!

Posted by: COLLIN REESE JONES | January 24, 2019 9:22 AM    Report this comment

Build the wall? Around control towers or TSA posts? The intimidating "wall" around federal employees, in my opinion, is bullshit. Just like the plans for a wall at the Mexican border, a monument to political stupidity. The insensitive remarks about those who are forced to work without pay appear to be coming from narrow-minded individuals not aboard the dilemma of paying for living essentials. Why should federal employees and their families be burdened by all this? It's unfair!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 24, 2019 11:55 AM    Report this comment

@ Bob T - slightly delayed must have a different definition in your book.
34 days AND COUNTING is not slightly for anyone impacted by it.

Callous AF

Posted by: Kevin K | January 24, 2019 1:17 PM    Report this comment

Oh, do not fear, Wilbur Ross, commerce secretary, is here! His words to 800,000+ fed employees: "Get a loan"

"True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest, but the idea that it's paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea. There's no reason why some institution wouldn't be willing to lend, and indeed we've heard tales of some of the government credit unions."

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 24, 2019 1:46 PM    Report this comment

Hey you, Bob Toxen: I think you misspelled your own last name.

And you, Mr. Reese Jones: That's a pretty clever pun on Don Lemon's name. Funny how the darker your skin is, the more likely you are to get a super-inventive nickname like that from a Trump supporter...

Posted by: Brian Peterson | January 24, 2019 8:25 PM    Report this comment

I'm gonna call BS. I am also a fed employee "exempt" from furlough (meaning I work but don't get paid) . Boo hoo for me. I've missed exactly one paycheck so far. I have been guaranteed to be paid by a recently passed law, so this is really just a delay in getting paid. I am not "working for free". I am so tired of this fake news.

I make a ton of money (don't ask, just google the GS15 with locality pay chart). I babysit adults all day with an impressive title. I don't work for FAA but I have previously (at HQ on nexgen information system projects), and also on a nexgen FAA contract.

Controllers are very well compensated (you can google their pay scale, average, according to FAA is $140k). They can retire in 20 years. They have a defined benefit pension plan (FERS) and a matching 401k (TSP).
I've spent several hundred hours at a TRACON for work, and yes their job is complex, but its not rocket science, its not back breaking work. Does your job have a room with an Xbox to chillax? Do you get a break every hour? I get it, its a lot of pressure. So was being a CJR FO, but I did it for 1/5 their salary.

Basically is an extremely good employment deal to be a controller. These folks would have an enormously hard time (impossible?) taking their professional experience to another employer (are they going to work in Canada or at a contract tower for 1/4 the salary). So no way anyone is going anywhere. Who's going to hire them?

So if there's some controller who claims they are quitting after missing 1 or 2 paychecks, they are exaggerating (lying). There's no way they can find a better paying job. sorry to put it so bluntly. but I've met a thousand feds who claim they can do better in the private sector, and constantly whine how Uncle Sam is treating them so poorly. Spoiler Alert: they never find anything better. If they could have, they would have already. The government attracts a certain type, me included, controllers included. we're not leaving the trough. For people who say shutdowns keep the gov't from attracting the "Best and Brightest", I'll try to stop laughing for a minute and simply say there's no reason for them to be there in the first place...

Posted by: carl radle | January 25, 2019 9:54 AM    Report this comment

'm gonna call BS. I am also a fed employee "exempt" from furlough (I work but don't get paid) . Boo hoo for me. I've missed exactly one paycheck so far. I have been guaranteed to be paid by a recent law, so this is really just a delay in getting paid. I am not "working for free"

I make a ton of money (don't ask, just google the GS15 with locality pay chart). I babysit adults all day. I don't work for FAA but I have previously (at HQ on nexgen information system projects)and also another mode of DoT.

Controllers are very well compensated (you can google their pay scale, average, according to FAA is $140k). They can retire in 20 years. They have a defined benefit pension plan (FERS) and a matching 401k (TSP).
I've spent several hundred hours at a TRACON for work, and yes their job is complex, but its not rocket science, its not back breaking work. Does your job have a room with an Xbox to chillax? Do you get a break every hour? I get it, its a lot of pressure. So was being a CJR FO, but I did it for 1/5 their salary.

Basically is an extremely good employment deal to be a controller. These folks would have an enormously hard time (impossible?) taking their professional experience to another employer (are they going to work in Canada or at a contract tower for 1/4 the salary). So no way anyone is going anywhere.

So if there's someone who says they are quitting after missing 1 or 2 paychecks, they are exaggerating. There's no way they can find a better paying job. sorry to put it so bluntly. but I've met a thousand fed who claim they can do better in the private sector. Spoiler Alert: they can't. If they could have, they would have already. The government attracts a certain type, me included, controllers included. we're not leaving the trough.

Posted by: carl radle | January 25, 2019 9:54 AM    Report this comment

@ Carl better than everyone

you can google their pay scale, average, according to FAA is $140k - WRONG
You should take up a class on how to actually fact check

It's a niche job, that has a low success rate, thus the benefits. And until you work the job or the schedule, your "opinionated assumptions" are just that.

Posted by: Kevin K | January 29, 2019 6:17 PM    Report this comment

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