Furloughed Federal Aviation Administration employees breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Senate passed a deal Friday morning to end the partial shutdown that had 4,000 workers at home and without paychecks for the last two weeks.
Idled FAA workers and contractors could return to their jobs as soon as Monday if President Obama signs the bill into law this weekend.
“I’m just thrilled that they did the right thing,” said Mark DePlasco, a 52-year-old controller who manages air-traffic facilities in California. “I think yesterday’s press gauntlet just pressured them into taking action.”
Two senators were present to approve a House bill extending FAA’s funding into mid-September, bringing a close to days of stress and anxiety for FAA workers who had no idea when they would be able to return to work. The unanimous consent procedure in the Senate took all of 30 seconds.
But employees are handling the news with guarded optimism.
The FAA funding extension runs through September 16 and Congress has only a few days after they return from recess to hammer out the details of another short-term extension or a long-term bill. Employees have not yet received notice about when or if they will receive retroactive pay for the last two weeks.
“I don’t think we’re completely out of the woods yet,” said Fred Rasche, a 49-year-old electrical engineer who has worked for the FAA for the last 27 years. “I would hope that they wouldn’t do this again—send all these people home.”
“Going through life with uncertainty with your livelihood—you can’t make any long term commitments,” echoed Michael Weatherby, who works at the William J. Hughes Technical Center outside of Atlantic City, N.J., the largest aviation-research facility in the world.
When they return to work, employees will try to get back to business as usual on the hundreds of projects that were left hanging as lawmakers squabbled over a few minor provisions in a long-term bill and then left Washington for a month-long recess without a resolution.
Planning ahead will be all the more difficult when there is the possibility of another shutdown hanging over their heads, employees said.
“I’m going to prepare for the worst knowing it could end up like this again—I won’t be making any major purchases,” DePlasco said. “I’ll be frugal the next month and a half just to see what happens.”
If there’s a silver lining to the whole mess, Rasche said that it’s shown him the importance of having his voice heard in the political process. He had never been in touch with his representative before. On Wednesday, he was on Capitol Hill speaking to congressional aides about his predicament.
“This is kind of a wake-up call,” Rasche said. “What [lawmakers] do up there does matter and it does impact our lives.”