Tuesday, June 06, 2006

FAA Making the Skies Less Safe

FAA imposes contract terms on air controllers
By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration imposed new contract terms on more than 14,500 U.S. air traffic controllers on Monday after failing to reach a negotiated agreement with the controllers' union, officials said.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to phase in pay cuts for new hires as well as new rules to boost worker productivity that were not resolved during 10 months of bargaining, which included mediation.

"The phase-in will be handled in a deliberate and orderly manner," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in a statement.

The FAA hopes the contract will save it nearly $2 billion over five years.

Agency officials are under pressure from transportation planners and congressional leaders to cut spending and operate more like a business.

Blakey took a firm position and said during negotiations the deal she ended up with would not be as lucrative as the previous contract, which was negotiated in 1998.

Relations between the FAA and controllers, who handle commercial flights and private planes nationwide, have sunk to their lowest level since 1981 when President Ronald Reagan fired 13,000 striking controllers who refused his back-to-work order.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing the workers, has not threatened any strike or other job action but has argued that the FAA's contract could jeopardize safety.

Blakey imposed the contract on the first day she was permitted to do so after a 60-day congressional review of the plan.

Congress did not make any changes, but a separate legislative proposal in the House of Representatives to push disputed areas of the contract to arbitration could be voted on as early as Tuesday.

The controllers said the FAA moved prematurely to impose terms.

"There is no reason for the administrator to subject her employees to the increasing acrimony created by this rush to implementation," the union's president, John Carr, said in a statement.