House Bill Urges FAA, Controllers to Continue Talks

Jun. 7--Some members of Congress are asking the Federal Aviation Administration and the union representing the nation's air traffic controllers to go back to the negotiating table.

Both groups have been looking for ways to save the federal agency money so funds can be used to update the nation's air traffic control system. The FAA's proposal had shaved $1.9 billion off, while the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's plan saved taxpayers $1.4 billion.

Members of the air traffic controllers union don't plan to strike.

Debate on a House resolution that would send the FAA and members of the NATCA back into negotiations was expected to be heard Tuesday evening. Lawmakers were planning to vote on the bill today.

Talks between the FAA and NATCA broke down in April after months of negotiations.

When talks fell through, the FAA submitted its plan to Congress, which had 60 days to act on the contract. That window ended Monday and officials with the FAA moved to implement the new contract.

The starting pay for new controllers was among the sticking points in contract talks.

New air traffic controllers are trained in Oklahoma City at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, which churns out about 1,200 graduates a year, who will go on to work at airports, radar centers and en route centers across the country.

"The new contract seeks to pay the next generation of air traffic controllers less than their peers," said Alex Slater, spokesman for NATCA. "They would take a pay cut of 30 percent and would see a five-year pay freeze. These are people who have trained a very long time to get here."

The FAA's proposed wage scales would slash new hire pay by $55,000. Under the existing contract, air traffic controllers would make a yearly salary of $149,000 after five years. The new proposal would make the salary about 37 percent lower, at $94,000.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, is among the Republicans backing HR 5449, which would ask the FAA and the air traffic controllers union to continue talks.

"There needs to be a way disputes between employees and the federal government can be settled when public safety reasons prevent them for having the option to strike," Cole said.

Air traffic controllers walked out on their jobs in 1981 after contract talks fell apart. Nearly 80 percent of the controllers at the time were fired by President Ronald Reagan.