15,000 More Scapegoats

A few days ago I wrote this about Hank Krakowski’s “resignation:”

But, in all fairness to the man, his biggest contributions to this latest mess are the staffing/hiring levels and not really addressing the fatigue issues inherent in working our profession and midshifts.  And he has lots of company there (decades worth), so to allow his resignation without a real, meaningful change in both those areas is simply disingenuous and a misdirection as far as I’m concerned.

Now go read R. Doug Wicker’s latest post and come on back…

You’ve got lots of company now, Hank.  Looks like DOT Secretary LaHood not only is pushing controllers under the bus with you, he’s trying to do some sneaky union busting at the same time by making it sound like NATCA leadership is helping him do it.   At the same time he doesn’t need to really address the fatigue issue in any meaningful fashion.  Disingenuous and yet another misdirection.

Secretary LaHood said in his Fox News interview:

So, those three things, along with the top to bottom review of training and other scheduling things, but we think more rest time, more managers on duty, and making sure that controllers are not looking out for their own schedule rather than the safety schedule, that we think needs to be put in place.

I’m not sure I can truly express how personally insulting I find these comments.  I’m one of those controllers that R. Doug mentions with a long commute.  I’m a controller who repeatedly requests to take my own annual leave from a day shift to compensate for that commute to get some rest before a midshift…and try to get to spend one hour with my young children before I leave again.  I’m a controller, who if I’m going to partake in alcoholic beverages, will NOT do so within 24 hours before ANY shift that I am required to work…3 times longer than the regulations state.  I can assure Secretary LaHood that I take my responsibilities to the flying public quite seriously.  I have never requested to work a shift that would violate the rest periods as stated in the regulations, but I have been scheduled to work them by management and had to bring it to their attention that it was illegal.

Secretary LaHood also stated:

We’re also going to ask the managers in the control towers to be more available in the early morning hours, and also in the late hours, to make sure that they remind controllers that they can’t sleep on the job, that they need to be alert, that safety is the number one priority. So, we’re going to change the scheduling of managers.

They’re going to “ask” them!?!  To “remind” us!?!  Who’s going to remind them when they get sleepy?

Some facts to contemplate:

Adding “managers” earlier and later in the day should ultimately prove to be very interesting, especially at smaller facilities that only have one manager and 1-2 supervisors.  Want to talk about fatigue?  I guarantee that most of them will be more tired than the controllers adjusting to their new schedules, especially since a number of them became supervisors, in part, to not have to work the fatiguing schedules.

Each of those facilities that just added extra bodies to the midshift are now understaffed (even if they were adequately staffed to begin with, which I seriously doubt).  They lost one person per day working either a night shift or a day shift.  Oh, and summertime traffic and leave are now fast approaching.

I notice that nowhere in all of Mr. LaHood’s statements did he mention that the FAA is allowing trainees, whether they are certified to work any position or not, to work those extra midshifts.  So on those midshifts, their only purpose is to try to keep awake.  And those trainees that are on those midshifts are not useable for giving breaks to the controller AND are not receiving training on those shifts…so it’ll take even longer to get them certified.

And by taking those “managers” (by which I assume he means supervisors) and having them work some of their hours during the midshifts, they’ve now lost oversight during the busier traffic hours and ANOTHER potential body to work traffic and provide oversight for training.

We were not adequately staffed before all of this started, so we’re most definitely not adequately staffed now.  But, hey, they can hire more supervisors out of the controller workforce to “remind” us that we’re not supposed to be sleepy and further understaff our facilities.  Not to mention that it was a supervisor who fell asleep at DCA.  Yep, that should help.

Somewhere I saw that approximately 25% of the controller workforce works the 2-2-1 schedule, which it appears is what the new 9-hour “rest period” is addressing.  That schedule was designed and assigned by management not to give longer weekends to controllers out of the goodness of their hearts and appreciation for the stress of the job, but to give them more bodies available for overtime.

But if 25% are working that schedule, 75% of controllers are not.  Many work a full week of nights, rotate to a full week of days ending with one midshift, then back to nights.  Or they work a full week of nights/mids/nights/days.

I see this was well thought out on the part of Secretary LaHood and his “advisors.”

I wrote:

We all start to feel sleepy when we are continually pushed outside our body’s natural rhythm.  It’s a fact of life.  Let’s start addressing that issue realistically – staffing adequately and mandating naps as the experts suggest.

So much for the hope that safety would win over politics or money with the upper, upper echelons of management or the flying public when faced with the slap-in-the-face reality that the understaffing and fatigue chickens are coming home to roost.  You would think I’d know that by now, but hope springs eternal.

Keep in mind, people, management is ultimately responsible for the schedule, not NATCA.  And I would bet that management will never allow a schedule that doesn’t give them the maximum amount of bodies to schedule for overtime.  Remember that when this problem rears its ugly head again.

I trust NATCA to do what they can as best they can to keep fighting the real fatigue issues.  I most certainly no longer have trust that Secretary LaHood will do the same.

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3 Responses to 15,000 More Scapegoats

  1. Pingback: What Others are Saying about Sleeping Controllers | R. Doug Wicker — Author

  2. Papa_Charlie says:

    Nice post, LaHood is a political apointee and utterly clueless. Has he ever worked shift work in his entire life? I doubt it. But thanks for the extra hour, I’m sure I will be extra alert and refreshed with all of that extra time! Morons, all of them.

  3. Experienced ATCS says:

    You misspeak on how the schedule is developed. Management provides the guidelines and the numbers of persons per hour for each of the 24 hours and 7 days. The bargain unit (NATCA in this case) then designs the schedule and submits to management for review (to ensure it meets the requirements originally setforth and does not violate any regs or labor laws.). NATCA is to blame and controllers WANT the longer weekends not to mention the condoning of practices like swapping of shifts for less than 8 (or 9 now) hours off.

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