CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Airline safety is “eroding” as the government shutdown has now tied for the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
- More than 20,000 air traffic controllers were not paid Friday
- NATA sued the federal government Friday
- U.S. House passed an already Senate-approved bill that will ensure back pay for federal workers
Those startling words came from the head of the National Air Traffic Controllers union. More than 20,000 air traffic controllers were not paid Friday.
The NATA sued the federal government Friday. They're requesting a temporary restraining order claiming in the last 21 days, the government unlawfully withheld their earnings without due process, failed to pay them at least minimum wage, and also failed to pay air traffic controllers overtime, all, they say, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
They're essential to safe, efficient air travel, and among the more than 800,000 federal workers impacted by the partial government shutdown.
“We want the shutdown to end,” said Anthony Schifano, president of the NATA Charlotte-branch. “We want it over with. Enough's enough!”
“We were optimistic that today would not get here,” Schifano said.
Considered essential positions, air traffic controllers have been on furlough yet hoping they would eventually get paid.
“I don't care if you're a garbage man or you're a mailman or you're an air traffic controller, you have an expectation when you go to work you're gonna get a paycheck,” he added.
Passengers we spoke to are well aware air traffic control jobs are already stressful.
“I couldn't imagine getting a zero-dollar check,” said Will Ponton. Another passenger added, “no matter where your politics lie, I think we should come together and figure something out.”
But, Schifano says the shutdown is impacting construction on the new air traffic control tower.
“Ultimately, the government shutdown is suspending the operations of this air traffic control facility the longer it goes on.”
He says the $100 million project was 95 percent complete before the shutdown halted everything.
“The engineers, the FAA personnel that oversee that work,” Schifano said.
Without those workers the contractor can't come on site.
“That has an impact on the economy cause they sub out contract work,” he explained. “Those people can't come in and get their paychecks.”
Meantime, inside the terminal, frequent flyers were reporting more impacts they blamed on the shutdown.
“I flew into Washington D.C. yesterday and there was bit of an issue with air traffic control so we had to circle the airport,” one passenger said.
It was a minor impact when compared to a worthless paycheck.
“I think it’s really bad,” Ponton said. “I feel bad for the people that have to go through this. It's like they're being pawns in this whole political game.”
Friday, the U.S. House passed an already Senate-approved bill that will ensure back pay for federal workers who missed their checks once the shutdown is over. It also guarantees payment if there are any future closures. President Trump has indicated he will sign that bill if/when it makes to his desk.