Fired New York Air Controllers Return to Jobs

Eleven air traffic controllers who were fired from their jobs at the New York Tracon in Westbury earlier this year were back on the job yesterday morning after a settlement agreement was reached with the controllers' union.

The Federal Aviation Administration notified the veteran controllers in August that they would be fired because they didn't acknowledge on routine medical forms that they had seen doctors for on-the-job stress. Controllers at the Tracon guide planes in and out of the New York area.

Air traffic controllers are required to undergo periodic physicals to show they are fit for work, and in that process they fill out forms that ask if they have been treated for mental problems or seen other doctors. The fired controllers had all taken time off for disability for on-the-job stress, but did not disclose it on their medical forms.

Under the settlement, the controllers were reinstated, and 10 received five-day suspensions without pay. One controller received a 30-day suspension without pay [CORRECTION: Ten of the air traffic controllers who were reinstated at the New York Tracon in Westbury this week received back pay minus five days' pay under a settlement between the Federal Aviation Administration and their union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The union contends that the action does not constitute a suspension of the employees, as it was characterized in a story yesterday. pg. A19 ALL 12/14/05].

The settlement late last week was reached after four days of FAA testimony before a federal arbitrator. Dean Iacopelli, the union chief for the Tracon controllers, said the union did not put on a case, but its lawyers introduced the fired workers, who stood up one by one and gave the number of years they had been working for the agency.

Shortly after that, the FAA sought to settle the case with the union, Iacopelli said. "The amount of money they spent ... it was a huge waste of taxpayer's money."

The FAA said it pursued the cases because the integrity of the medical forms is crucial to aviation safety; the forms are the same ones pilots fill out. FAA spokesman Greg Martin said that even though the controllers were reinstated, the penalties of suspension without pay were "significant" and "underscore our commitment to the highest standards of safety."

"Taxpayers have a right to expect high standards of conduct from all civil servants. We've been taking actions to curb abuses of overtime and leave and when we see potential cases of abuse we'll investigate," Martin said.

The FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents 15,000 controllers nationwide, are in the midst of negotiations for a new contract.

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