Today concludes our lesson on the importance of unions in today’s workplace environment, with a focus on public-sector unions in particular. If you don’t belong to a union, you should consider it. If your workplace doesn’t have a union, you should organize one. If you work in a “Right to Work” state, remember that the whole phrase should actually be, “Right to Work . . . for Less, and Without Protections.”
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NATCA’s Turn at Defense
After some preliminary evidentiary housekeeping, NATCA’s Attorney Bill Osborne presented NATCA’s case. It wouldn’t take long.
Osborne: “Have you rested?”
Osborne: “And we rest.”
That’s it. If you blinked, you missed it. So sure was Osborne that the Agency’s witnesses had destroyed their own credibility… when they weren’t busy destroying each others’ that is… that he rested. His went on to state his rationale:
“We think that the Agency’s evidence is overwhelmingly condemning of what the Agency did. They stipulated yesterday by their witnesses that the documentary evidence that we have already submitted is accurate and true. We think that is more than ample record for you (Arbitrator Jaffe) to make your decision. We also renew our motion for interim relief. And we would be happy to give you oral argument or brief, but we want a decision in this case at the earliest possible time and we are hopeful of getting the case resolved before the holiday.”
From Arbitrator to Mediator:
The Home Stretch
Elizabeth Head realized by now that her case had been consigned quite literally to the trash bin. Going off record, she proposed that the arbitrator mediate an immediate settlement, to which Bill Osborne readily agreed. With that request Ira Jaffe took off his arbitrator hat and exchanged it for that of a mediator.
Four days later, with full back pay minus five days’ worth, the eleven controllers were escorted back into New York TRACON by then NATCA President John Carr. The five days’ pay was a bone thrown to the FAA with the understanding that it in no way could be called a suspension, and that no mention or hint of a suspension could be uttered by the Agency or placed into the victims’ personnel records.
Despite that proviso, it took the Agency not even until the end of the day agreement was reached to break their end of the deal. Because of intense Congressional interest, with direct inquiries from the offices of New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton as well as Representative Timothy Bishop of New York’s First Congressional District, the Agency went into face-saving mode. Spokespersons for the Agency went before the press and mislead the public when they characterized Jaffe’s withholding of five days’ pay as a ‘suspension’ that vindicated the Agency’s actions against these eleven controllers.
And what of the twelfth controller, the controller who had since transferred to Phoenix TRACON? “Victim 12” had been the first of the NY 12 fired, and he was the last to be reinstated. His case ended pretty much the same, only this time the Agency didn’t even bother going before an arbitrator. In January of 2006, less than a month after the arbitration that reinstated eleven of the NY 12, the Agency awarded “Victim 12” full back pay and purged his records of the entire incident.
NATCA went twelve for twelve. The Agency wound up paying back a total of almost 60 months’ worth of pay for work not performed, including in that back pay package what the controllers would have made in Sunday and holiday pay, night differential, and overtime. All told, the Agency was out a conservatively estimated $600,000 in settlement money, and that figure doesn’t include incidental expenses such as the overtime necessary to cover for the loss of services of these twelve controllers or the attorney’s fees for both parties which the agency was now obligated to pay as a result of this humiliating loss. Many officials were caught either lying outright in sworn testimony, or giving testimony that was so erroneous that they were unqualified to answer the questions posed them. None of these individuals were ever disciplined, let alone terminated. The reason why is simple: They were merely following mandates from higher up the food chain. Marion Blakey had fired her first warning shot across NATCA’s bow, and these people were the ones manning the cannon.
Culture change did not end with these arbitrations. In fact, it got worse. Much worse. Nationwide, management began cracking down on even the slightest perceived infractions or abuses. One of the New York 12 didn’t last a month back at work when, because of the unrelenting harassment, he resigned from the Agency after a fifteen-year career with an impeccable record.
With the implementation of the White Book all hell broke loose at many facilities, as management strove to portray NATCA as totally impotent. I can list literally hundreds, if not thousands, of cases showing the pettiness with which management at the local level wielded its new-found power, but I won’t bore the reader. I’ll just cite one, and once again it deals with “Mr. Green”’s coveted dress code… the one worth delaying and inconveniencing passengers; driving up airlines’ fuel and labor costs; and even endangering lives, property, and national security. It occurred at one of this nation’s approximately twenty Area Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC). If that sounds like an important facility, it most certainly is. By the time the local manager, “Mr. H. Couture”, finished defining his own version of the dress code he came up with a twelve-page document that specified everything including pant length, heel height, number of pockets, color combinations, fabrics, and, unbelievably, even thread count of the clothing material. The following email is but one example of the importance to “Mr. H. Couture” of this silliness:
Subject: Dress Code
This week we have had a couple of questions about the dress code. Guess with the warm weather it had to happen. The policy is the same as we put out in September. No shorts, no skorts, but Capri pants mid calf or longer are OK for females. Seems some females have been wearing some shorts (city shorts) or Capris that are just below the knee . These are not business casual. Make sure we all are watching this. For now I would just advise them not to wear them again and not send them home. If it happens more than once then you may send them home. Shoes for women was also a question. Specifically how to we determine if the shoes are flats. Best we could come up with is if it has any thickness of a heel then it is OK.
With us questioning the dress of female controllers some questions have come up about female FLM’s and OM’s. Just remember the dress code for all FLM’s and OM’s is business not business casual.
The important thing is for us all to be consistent in our application of the dress code.
“Mr. H. Couture”
So, “Mr. H. Couture” fiddled while (Blank) ARTCC burned with losses in staffing, increases in both Operational Errors and Deviations, and mounting delays into and through the airspace for which he was responsible for managing. Meanwhile, I’m sure the American taxpayer is left wondering: While “Mr. H. Couture” was displaying his juvenile desire to be party to the haute couture establishment, is this really what he was being paid $172,200 (and a $1,500 bonus) in 2008 to accomplish?
And all through this lunacy the Agency continued to get its hat handed back to it in arbitration after arbitration after arbitration, eventually racking up settlements well into the millions of dollars and paying NATCA attorney fees running into the hundreds of thousands. By 2008 the annual employee satisfaction survey had the FAA at 216 out of 218 on the list of the government agencies for which to work. Is it any wonder why — if the frozen wages didn’t drive out experienced, retirement eligible controllers — this petty, nonstop harassment did?