ATLANTIC CITY - Hundreds of FAA employees at the William J. Hughes Technical Center remain out of work without pay as a partisan stalemate drags on in Washington DC.
The federal employees were among over 4,000 furloughed across the country over the weekend after Congress failed to approve a stopgap funding measure that expired at midnight Friday. The number of employees working for FAA contractors who are affected is not clear, but is believed to be significant. Efforts to harmonize the House and Senate funding bills collapsed after Republicans added several controversial provisions to the proposed compromise, including a measure that would make it harder for airline and railroad employees to unionize. This is the first time in 21 temporary extensions of FAA authority to operate that contentious language has been included in legislation.
"These workers have been thrown under the bus because of political infighting that has nothing to do with their jobs," AFGE National President John Gage said.
And after 5 days of this furlough action, it appears there is no end in sight. Aviation businesses and associations, as well as other employee associations have joined with affected Unions to call for a rapid reversal of the impacts of this furlough.
The local impacts in the Atlantic City area are large. Nearly 640 employees at the William J. Hughes Technical Center have been furloughed, including 14 AFGE members, AFGE Local 200 President Robert Challender said. These employees perform Hardware & Software Engineering and Field Support & Restoration of the FAA National Airspace System (NAS). Air Traffic Control personnel rely on these systems to deploy new and improved NAS products and for expert repair and restoration services when systems fail.
"To have 14 of approximately 360 employees in our Local furloughed for ideological differences is unconscionable. We urge Congress to ensure these employees are made whole by receiving back pay and benefits for time lost," Challender said. "Additionally, this action is neither in the interest of the flying public nor the mission of the FAA. And worse is the larger impact at the Tech Center. Much of the work of those exempt from the furlough will languish since our coworkers are forced to remain home."
In addition to employees who have been ordered to stay home, some workers paid under Facilities and Equipment (F&E) funding are operating under an exception to the furlough, Challender said. This means these workers are forced to work with no opportunity for paid time off (vacation, sick, jury duty, etc). If sick, they either must work or become furloughed.
The Technical Center serves as the national scientific test base for the FAA. Employees support operational air traffic control computer systems, develop and test new air traffic control equipment and software, and modify existing systems and procedures. The majority of work on the FAA's NEXTGen air traffic control system has come to a halt during this "partial shutdown".
A search of stop work orders that have been issued to contractors at the Tech Center finds the total value of the contracts being stopped at nearly $200 million. Many of the businesses are based in Southern New Jersey. The total impact to businesses nationwide is not known at this time, but is expected to be immense.
"To be clear, AFGE Local 200 recognizes the strenuous activities of the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt and the Agency in their attempts to bring this interruption in the Agency's authorization to closure," Challender said. "However, members of Congress who inserted and voted for contentious language in the temporary extension should be held accountable."
In addition to the workers in Atlantic City, about 165 employees at the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City have been furloughed, including 31 AFGE members, said Greg Brooks, president of AFGE Local 2282, which represents about 1,400 employees at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Logistics Center there.
"It doesn't matter if we had just one member affected. It's a member affected by poor policy," Brooks said. "One person can make a difference in people's lives doing this kind of work."