Indentured Servitude is Alive and Well in the U.S.


An Airport Traffic Control (ATC) Tower

An Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT)

Take it from a former controller who has in his 34 years in the business worked at some pretty busy facilities under less than ideal conditions with obsolete or failing equipment and uncooperative weather:  There are few if any jobs more stressful than air traffic control.  Period.  It’s certainly more stressful than being, say, a congressman or a senator.

Imagine working New York TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) during a busy inbound rush of air carriers, failing equipment, and a line of thunderstorms pushing into the area from the west.  Throw into that mix an inflight emergency or two and perhaps an aircraft with minimum fuel that needs to get on the ground right now.

Then let’s add to all that stress.

Let’s tell those controllers that they have to go to work, but a group of about thirty congressmen and a senator or two who didn’t agree with the results of the last election are going to refuse to allow the United States Congress to pay them.

These already overworked, stressed controllers have mortgages to make, utilities to pay, car payments, grocery bills, kids in college . . . but none of that makes any difference.  They are required by federal law to work.  For free.  Indefinitely.

Think that’s fair?  That’s what’s happening right now, this very second.  In New York.  In Dallas.  In Atlanta.  In Chicago.  In Los Angeles.  In myriad other busy facilities across this great nation.  All because of thirty-some-odd Congressmen and at least one delusional, grand-standing Senator from Texas who has ambitions beyond the senate seat he’s held for less than ten months.

Tomorrow, these controllers will be paid for only 48 of the 80 or more hours they worked — the 48 hours they worked before the shutdown that occurred just thirteen days ago.  Those controllers received that bad news when they got their “pay” statements last Thursday.  Two weeks from tomorrow the amount in their paychecks drops to Z-E-R-O despite working another 80 or more hours during the next pay period.

How long do you think you could financially hold on under such conditions?  How long do you think it’ll be before some of these controllers have to resign to find jobs that pay the bills?  How long do you think it’ll be before retirement-eligible controllers with 20 or 25+ years of badly needed experience and who are currently mentoring an already far-too-young and inexperienced group of new controllers decide that they should go into retirement just to pay the bills?  (Controllers, by the way, are only allowed to work to the last day of the month in which they turn 56 because of the stresses inherent to their jobs, and because before that reduction in the retirement age, very few controllers could make it to mandatory retirement because of failing health and deteriorating abilities and reaction times.  These are the professionals who your congressman is stiffing on pay for work they’ve already done.)

How long before that radar control room guiding your airliner is staffed like this?:

The Control Room of a Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON)

The Control Room of a Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON)

And while these people are working for free, I’d like for you to consider this:  Those congressmen?  The ones who before the last election proclaimed the 2012 elections a “referendum on Obamacare?”  The congressmen who are now having a temper tantrum because, at their core, they apparently only believe in democracy when it suits them?

Those congressmen work on average just two days out of every five-day workweek, earn at a minimum $174,000 a year (Speaker Boehner gets a whopping $223,500 for not doing his job), are vested for retirement benefits after only five years on what I laughingly call “the job,” get federally subsidized healthcare (which those thirty want to deny people who make one tenth as much as they), and they continue to receive those pay and all those benefits while your air traffic controllers are forced to do without.  Those congressmen certainly aren’t hurting financially during this self-induced “crisis,” but your air traffic controllers certainly are.

How dare any elected representative do this to employees who work for them?  How dare any elected representative put employees’ families through this kind of stress and uncertainty?  How dare anyone whose job is given to them by a democratic process repudiate the outcome of a democratic election because they do not agree with the results?

It is way past time to start reducing the stress levels of your already overstressed air traffic controllers, and to start raising the stress levels of your elected representative.  And if you live in the state of Texas, as do I, it’s way past time to tell the wealthy Senator Ted Cruz (55th wealthiest member of the U.S. Senate) that if he doesn’t agree with democracy, then it’s well beyond time to democratically terminate his employment come next election.

These people, quite frankly, disgust this former Republican who, effective October 1 of this year, no longer affiliates himself with what once was truly the Grand Old Party . . . but is no more.

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57 Comments

Filed under Author, Aviation Safety, Opinion Piece, Social Networking, Writing

57 responses to “Indentured Servitude is Alive and Well in the U.S.

  1. Vector Czar

    Nicely stated, Doug

  2. Thank you for this fine statement . I know how my husband is going to get started when i have him read it! .

  3. Ignorance is Bliss

    You are ignorant R. Doug Wicker. You comparing working an air traffic controller who IS getting paid in IOU’s right now and will eventually receive their pay to an “indentured servant” is a travesty. Cry me a river! What about the many government workers and contractors that are furloughed and may not receive back pay for these days they can not work.

    • You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.

      By the way, I am one of those contractors who was furloughed. And I will not receive back pay.

      Oh, and how long could exist on IOUs?

      • Former Republican who woke up.

        Ignorance is Bliss. Do the banks, gas stations, grocery stores take IOU’s? Must be nice to be so Ignorant.
        Even GOP’ers have had enough with the Tea Party.

    • ba

      Its easy to sit in front of your computer and make comments like this when you’re not in our seat. Sorry but the banks don’t take IOU’S….at least the furloughed people can collect unemployment and work other jobs while we work for free and can’t pay our bills. Little do you know many people CHOSE to take furlough thinking they would get paid back and get a free vacation

    • PopoySD

      I do not understand why there are people like you who keep thinking it’s ok to have IOU’s…because yes, that’s exactly what you’re trying to imply…that’s it’s ok that we’re not getting paid right now. Not every FAA Air Traffic Controller make the amount of money some of you claim..and even if they did, you do not know each and every one of their financial situation. I just transferred from TX to CA with my whole family (wife and 4 kids) last year at my own expense, everything out of my own pocket. I spent a good chunk of our savings to move everything half way across the country. Then I spent another good chunk paying to get a house out in CA…we have barely started recuperating from the expenses we incurred with the transfer. Did we know all along that I was gonna stop receiving a paycheck 1 year later??? It gets me frustrated when people like you are quick to judge. I’d like you to be in a controllers shoes, one who works at a lower level facility making just enough to get by in a very expensive cost of living area…or a father who’s had a sick child who keeps paying medical bills…or a single mom who just barely started with the career and barely making enough until she gets certified on positions. Let’s see the government run you to your last penny, I’ll be right there handing you your tissue wipes.

  4. Ed Mears

    Well said, Brother. Well said.

  5. DC

    Ah, and who’s union endorsed Obama’s reelection? Who was that again? Sorry about your situation–I truly am sorry. But we are now finding out this pres has no loyalty to his friends. Oh, that’s congress you blame? Wrong again. Ask any expert on leadership. Everything rises and falls on the leader (John Maxwell). Leaders bring groups together, not alienate them. I’d say congress is in mid-divorce.

    • Even members of the Republican party are naming names as to who in their own party is at fault.

      • ATCG8r

        Not sure if you saw my comments but thank you for sharing our story.

      • Obama is ready to sign a clean budget bill just as soon as Republicans can get their thumbs out of their asses and do their job. John Boehner is literally the most powerful man in the world right now because only he can bring a clean budget bill to the floor where we already know that it has more than enough House votes to pass.

  6. ATCG8r

    Thank you for your service and thanks for your continued support of the rest of us working for an IOU.

  7. ATC Guy

    The House chose to send up a bill that funded the entire government, including all of us controllers, except for Obamacare, as is their right. The Senate chose to not vote on that bill because it didn’t fund Obamacare, as is their right. 99% of the government was funded, only Obamacare wasn’t. The Senate shut down the government. Every year various programs/line items get funded and defunded. That’s how government works. This year the Senate chose to make their stand on one line item, which is their right but also lands the responsibility of the government shutting down squarely on them.

    • Blackmail is never a winning strategy. The Republicans made the last election a referendum on Obamacare, lost the White House, seats in the Senate, and seats in the House of Representatives.

      And now they want to contest the results of a fight they lost? No thank you.

      • Gene Caple, ZMA Retired,

        I think every Republican up for reelection should be sweating the outcome. I say we need a campaign to FUSH THEM ALL.

  8. HD at I90

    Thanks for your writing. You are not only a gifted photographer, but blogger as well.

  9. Very well stated. Thank you for posting this. I am sorry that people still continue to believe the republican lie machine, and in their ignorance, attempt to belittle the truth you have shared here.

  10. Scott Kordes

    Very well written. Thank you! I’ve shared this article with many of my friends and family.
    Scott Kordes
    Amarillo ATCT.

  11. DZ

    @DC,
    The failed leader is John Boehner. He is the one who is not allowing democracy to happen. Not President Obama. What do you think would happen if a clean CR was to go to the house floor for a vote? It would pass. The Prez is doing exactly what he should do. That is not setting a precedent that it is ok for one party to hold a gun the countries head because they can’t have their way. We’ll done, Mr. President.

    The failure is square in the GOPs court that much IS clear.

  12. Takin' Gas

    As a controller myself, I must say the article is spot on. Thanks.

  13. Coop

    I am a controller with 20+ years of experience, a member of NATCA, and an idependent voter as well. If you want to put the blame squarely on one party, you have that right. Be assured though, it is mearly your opinion. This mess is squarely rooted in the partisan politics of the day. When every major opinion poll shows that the majority of the country does not want the ACA or at least wants it delayed, and one side ignores that, what does that say? Sandbox games are being played by both sides, both sides are acting like spoiled little brats. Perhaps if you stopped sucking off of the teet of your handlers, you’d see that. Rather than playing the blame game of partisan politics, open and your eyes and see that there is no just party in this. The republicans may have started this, but the democrats have done nothing to help end it. Remember, we are are country of many ideas, one size does not fit all.

    • Kim

      This situation is truly unfortunate. More than 8,000 employees at my former job (hospital/medical group) were fired. The group stated that they needed the cuts to save money. Maybe they are worried about the new health care and reimbursements…who knows. The point is, patient care will suffer. Those workers who came into work and found out they no longer had jobs will suffer. The air traffic controllers in this situation will suffer.

      At this point, I don’t care what political party started these problems. In the end, what is obvious is that we as a country need to unite ourselves and work together to help each other, rather than dividing ourselves. No matter what party you like, the WHOLE government is shut down. Let’s think outside the box and figure out a way to help those in need as our situations allow.

    • Coop, we live in a representative democracy. Ergo, we do not do things in this country by plebiscite. This isn’t Switzerland. Thus, the only poll that counts at the federal level is the one that takes place the first Tuesday following the first Monday every even-numbered year.

      In 2012, in the one poll that truly counts and after the Republicans made that election a “referendum on Obamacare,” the Republicans failed to take the White House and lost seats in botht the House of Representatives and the Senate. It wasn’t even close . . . in ANY forum you wish to cite.

      But, seeing as you’re so enamored with polling data, you should take a look at more recent polls. Because of the shut down Obamacare is surging in popularity and it’s rapidly approaching an even split on the question. Republicans are at their lowest polling numbers in the history of registering such data. The polling data on who is to blame is overwhelmingly lopsided against the Republican party.

      He who chooses to live by the polls, dies by the polls.

      • Coop

        I wrote one sentence on polling and suddenly I am “enamored”? Are you so one sided in your thinking that you cannot see the truth in front of you? The elected representatives in D.C. do not care one bit for the people of this country. That goes for Congress, Senate, and POTUS. Listen to the conversation coming out of D.C. now, everybody is concerned with 2016. They are more concerned with keeping their status in the ruling class than they are by how the peasants are being harmed by their non-action. Look at the data on the ACA, it was clearly not ready for release. CEO’s of insurance companies that are in the exchanges are saying they would have delayed it, and that in the public sector people would have been fired over such a poorly implemented program. The administration said that it was set up to handle 50,000 applications a day. Going off of the 48,000,000 uninsured Americans alone, it would take 960 days to enroll them. Yet the individual mandate goes into effect in 3 month’s. You think the ruling class doesn’t know all this? But God forbid anything get in the way of party politics. Like I said, there is no just party in this.

      • Marko

        I am a controller,27 years,union member.There are three branches of government.The Republicans won the House of Representatives during the last election.Our founding fathers set up a system of checks and balances to ensure no one branch could run roughshod over our country.The executive branch and Senate want a clean CR,tough sh_t…the House doesn’t.Negotiate like all other presidents have done…Reagan and Tip O’Neill ring a bell?

        • It was the Tea Party wing that specifically went into this with a laundry list of demands that they said were unnegotiable and over which they would be unwilling to compromise.

          You need to talk to those individuals who very publicly and repeatedly said that when they began this. They closed the door to negotiation and compromise before it even began. Now they want to “compromise?”

          A bit late now. You don’t go into negotiations by making threats beforehand and cutting off all discussion before it begins. That’s not compromise; that’s hostage taking.

    • Dave Strang, IAH retired, Lifetime NATCA member

      Well said Coop. I worked through the shutdown in ’95. Our CU advanced our pay and then took it back out once paychecks resumed. No one is working for free. That is pure misstatement. Everyone will be payed in full. As for responsibility, Harry Reid will not even allow debate on any of the numerous CRs passed by the House that would reopen the government. A majority, yes you read correctly, a majority in congress voted to defund ACA. Five hold out democratic senators gave Harry Reid the votes he needed to avoid an embarrassing vote on the CRs passed by the House. You can be sure he is under strict orders not to put the WH in the position of vetoing a CR. It is not negotiation when one side says they will only negotiate after X,Y & Z. Would NATCA sit down at the table under those conditions? Everything is negotiable and everything must be on the table. The House has the constitutional power of the purse. To demonize them for exercising their authority shows a lack of understanding on how the Constitution works. Will anyone get everything they want? Of course not! Negotiations must begin with no preconditions and nothing off limits.

      • You are aware, are you not, that Speaker Boehner is very publicly doing exactly what you’re accusing Harry Reid of doing — refusing to bring up for a vote clean CR in the House because he:

        1) Knows he would lose

        2) He has been threatened with a primary challenge by those backing the now-infamous House Thirty and Senator Ted Cruz if he does allow a vote

        Additionally, you’re totally ignoring the Tea Party Republicans’ own very public and well-documented threats to shut down the government pretty much no matter what unless they got everything they wanted. No negotiations. No compromise. All or nothing.

        That’s something that it’s a little hard to run from at this late date, and the public is overwhelming seeing right through the sudden attempts to “appear moderate” the past few days in a losing attempt to divert blame.

    • njd

      Finally someone who sees the real truth .. without the prejudice of party loyalty. Wish our leader would do what’s right for our economy and not party politics.

      • Dave Strang, IAH retired, Lifetime NATCA member

        Yep, I agree, Boehner has adopted the same tactics that Reid is using, not allowing a vote. I keep hearing the term “clean CR” tossed about. Again, Harry Reid has at least 4 clean CRs on his desk that will get you your paychecks. None of them contains anything controversial. Reid is balking because what he calls a “clean CR” contains everything he wants. “Give me everything I want, then we’ll talk.” How is that negotiating? So we’re deadlocked and neither side can force the other to budge. It then falls upon the President to get things moving. He’s supposed to lead the Nation in times like this. Instead all we hear is the same demands, give me everything, then we’ll talk. That is not leadership. This is a petty and vengeful president. No controller had to be furloughed due to the sequester. One phone call from the president could have stopped that. Same with not paying military death benefits. Inflict pain, that’s all he knows how to do. Can you imagine the uproar if Bush had 10% of us on furlough during 9-11? President Obama played russian roulette with airline safety. For that and that alone, he should be impeached. I’m ashamed NATCA didn’t call him out on that. I agree with whomever said we should toss them all out, Congress & the White House.

  14. Joe

    Please Doug, can we just lay the blame on all of these morons? Both parties! If Either side would compromise just one bit we’d be getting our paychecks on time. The fact is… Your state of Texas voted in Ted Cruz who ran on a platform that said he would do everything in his power to stop obamacare. That resonated with his constituent and he’s doing what he said he would do. I lay the blame on all of congress, all of the senate and on he president. There is much more to this fight than just the battle over the health care law, it’s just a shame that the hard working Americans are being used as pawns. I say kick em all out!

    Fellow ATC’er

    • You are entitled to your opinion, Joe. That being said, one side chose to hold us all hostage to their demands . . . demands made after suffering a resounding defeat at the polls.

      That wasn’t a negotiation tactic. That was blackmail.

  15. Curt Applegate

    Well said Mr Wicker. I stand with you on the last paragraph.

  16. I was a controller in the Navy for 7 years. I got out in March, right when the sequestration happened. Perfect timing eh? There are tons of vets right now that have ATC experience just sitting at home because of this. Right now I’m going to college, but if this goes on any longer I’m gonna have to choose another career. I know 1 controller isn’t a lot to some people, but I can bet some of these places that are losing controllers by dozen every day could use another controller with experience. And no it isn’t all ship experience haha.

  17. Ryan

    ZLC/ZAN volunteer

  18. PJ

    Art 1, Section 7 of the Constitution gives the House the “Power of the Purse.” Since the inception of our republic the party controlling the House has exercised its power to fund bills in part or in entirety innumerable times; this log jam is nothing new. What is new is that elected officials in the highest levels of government have chosen not to negotiate.
    During the last major shutdown President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich were together to the last minute trying to reach common ground. Both houses of congress were kept in session hoping an agreement could be reached, voted on then signed into law. Prior to this shutdown only the House was in session; they passed 4 measures that were either not considered by the Senate or we’re voted down.
    By looking at how fast barriers were erected at D.C. Area national monuments (the next day) I wonder if all players were negotiating in good faith?
    BTW I am a serving 37 year controller in southern CA.

  19. Michele

    Thanks Doug. This was well written. To the haters: layoffs (furloughs) suck. No one likes them. If this was the private sector, you would assuredly never get paid back. And why should you? If you’re not providing a service to your company, we should you be reimbursed? Specifically to staff specialists who are furloughed; you made the choice to not vector airplanes anymore and therefore made yourself non-excepted. The truth is, your union is fighting very hard and you wil most likely get paid back for sitting at home. All while you could’ve procured other employment or applied for unemployment, us excepted ones cannot. At my facility, not one of these coattail riding bastards pays dues. If NATCA is successful in getting all non-excepted members reimbursed, I will take a union membership form to every one of them and remind them who go them that money.

  20. Romero

    If you are not happy with your elected official then vote him/her out. That’s what I intend to do and they better NOT stop by my home wanting to shake my hand or ask for my vote. They’re ALL ****ing worthless!!!

  21. alphanov

    the republicans clearly know what they are doing. they had a damn plan all along to shut down the government. this isnt a game this is affecting real people. Looking forward to them being voted out. This is congressional terrorism.

    http://www.ibtimes.com/government-shutdown-2013-hr-368-little-rule-change-house-republicans-guaranteed-federal-shutdown

  22. They should strike. All air traffic comes to a stop. That would get the attention of the people.

  23. Rboat

    Thanks for trying to keep people informed! The situation is stressful enough for workers as is but it is so true that I actually got physically nauseous from stress during a busy session with frequencies starting to fail. Like you pointed out, everyone has an opinion and people arguing their point can only add more stress to the mix. Keep sticking together ATC brothers and sisters!

  24. Parker

    I am controller with 2 mortgages, one I have a newly hired controller renting from that can’t pay me this month and I already eat $600 a month with the rent. Wells Fargo told me I could be on a payment plan but still would report my credit for every 15 days I am not caught up. I believe if I do not recieve a paycheck soon regardless of the IOU I will not be able to make the payment. I believe once I take a credit hit for that property what’s the point of ever paying on it again. Even with a letter telling the banks to give me a break my credit will be in jeperdy from this sad situation.

  25. As a retired Air Traffic Controller of 27 years I am familiar with all of this however I must take issue with your obvious political slant which has it backwards. The entire government was funded by the House of Representatives except Obama care. It is Harry Reid and Barack Obama who refused to sign on to that bill. They are refusing to go along with any bill that does not include Obama care. The entire shutdown could end this very minute if they would vote for and sign the funding bill which is agreeable to all parties already except for the part about Obama care. The constitution gives the House and only the House the responsibility to originate and fund the government. So it is soley their right to decide what to fund, so if anyone is disagreeing with the last election it’s the Democrats in the Senate and Obama, the Republicans won the last election in the House. If Obama care is such a great idea then it will pass FULL muster on it’s own but it isn’t and it won’t because it is the worst thing to come out of congress since the New Deal of Roosevelt anf that is why 3 out of every 4 Americans oppose it.

  26. Kirby

    This “discussion” clearly illustrates what’s wrong with us today. We are so absolutely sure that our side is right, we call the other side “idiots”, “hardheaded”, “you’re to blame”, etc. We need to reign in the antagonistic rhetoric and solve this crisis like rational people. It needs to start with our leader who, from day one, has created a “my way or the highway” atmosphere. No one is capable of having all the right answers. We need to look after the majority and the majority needs to look after the minority and needy. (By the way, you can find a poll result that will justify just about any point of view.). Father of an ATC.

  27. Bill

    I work at one Of the busiest artcc’s in the world. Morale is at an all time low. People are stressed out, and those that are eligible to retire have started sliding their retirement papers under the office door. (That is the direction they were given as per FAA Q&A website). Frankly, if this goes on longer, many of us will be forced to request furlough status and look for a job that pays cash just to cover our bills.

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