Here we go again.
That was the feeling last week among thousands of Federal Aviation Administration employees who were once again staring down the prospect of being furloughed because Congress almost came to an impasse over a bill—for the second time in as many months—that would fund both the agency and various surface-transportation projects.
But at the 11th hour, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who had taken a hard line against the “wasteful spending” included in the legislation, relented.
The bill cleared the Senate, averting a partial shutdown that would have sent thousands of FAA workers home without paychecks and potentially cost millions of dollars in lost tax revenue from airline tickets, as occurred during the impasse in August. At that time, Congress, wholly wrapped up in debt-ceiling negotiations, adjourned without reauthorizing funding for the agency.
For two weeks, 4,000 FAA workers and thousands of other contract employees found their finances in a shambles as they were left without work or pay, and perhaps most maddeningly, without any clue about when Congress would remedy the situation.
This time around, those who have a vested interest in the welfare of FAA workers and the aviation system wanted to be proactive in preventing that nightmare scenario.
Last week, David Conley, president of the FAA Managers Association, came to Washington to lobby lawmakers to chew on the implications of their actions on workers. The pain of being furloughed might not hit home for members sitting in committee meetings and perhaps more concerned with the political consequences of their votes, but it is devastatingly real for those trying to make mortgage payments, care for their children, and make ends meet in the midst of a sluggish economic recovery.
Conley called the last shutdown experience “traumatic” for employees, many of whom contemplated going to the unemployment line for the first time as members of Congress headed back to their districts.
“The thing that made the furlough last time so difficult and so traumatic for them was that they didn’t know how long it was going to last,” Conley said. “They didn’t know that they were going to come back and pass something to end it within two weeks. The prospect was that they weren’t going to address it until September and they would be furloughed for a month or more.”
Conley also went to Capitol Hill to push for legislation restoring the wages of those who missed paychecks. The bill, dubbed the Furloughed FAA Employees Compensation Act, is tentatively slated to be taken up this week.
“It’s just a matter of equity for those people,” he said. “They were victimized during the period of the furlough. It had an impact on their lives, and we’d like to see it made right.”
Conley, who has worked for the FAA for 29 years and been involved with the FAA Managers Association since the mid-1990s, said the opportunity to help his colleagues be treated fairly keeps him involved in the organization on a solely voluntary basis. Conley was in Washington last week on his vacation time, hoping that the political gridlock wouldn’t spell more troubles for his employees.
“It’s a difficult climate for anybody to do business in Washington right now, and there could be a multitude of reasons for that,” Conley said. “It is what it is. Our objective is just to help facilitate the situation that we’re dealing with right now.”
This article appears in the September 20, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.