I’m the American Federation of Government Employees Local 200 president and a worker at the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center. I write about privatization of federal agencies, specifically the Federal Aviation Administration. The threat is very real with potential severe damage to all employees. A portion of the FAA was first privatized in 2005. The results were devastating to me and employees I represented as the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists Eastern Region director.
President George W. Bush signed an executive order removing air traffic control (ATC) from “inherently governmental” status. The FAA did an A-76 study to determine the feasibility of outsourcing flight service ATC functions. Though flawed, the FAA study got the desired result of privatizing flight services and FAA flight service employees.
Lockheed Martin won the contract for flight services and was to retain the workforce to perform those functions. Under our union contract, the FAA was obligated to provide career transition assistance to displaced employees. The agency’s idea of career transition assistance was notifying employees of the offer to work for Lockheed Martin. Because of that offer, the FAA felt no obligation to provide other assistance. Bottom line — either take the job (leaving one’s government career behind) or find employment elsewhere.
The Lockheed Martin transition plan was to downsize from 58 flight service stations to 20. My union brothers and sisters had to deal with the stress of moving to a new location while losing their federal employment status. Many had to leave families behind and pay rent for themselves while also maintaining primary residences. Lockheed Martin was obligated to retain pay, vacation and sick time at FAA levels for as long as employees worked for it. However, many were tasked with training lesser paid new employees, then fired as soon as the new employees were proficient in doing the job. The privatization caused financial, emotional, physical damage to all affected employees.
I was one of the “lucky ones” sort of. On the date of outsourcing, Oct. 5, 2005, I lost 19½ years of federal employment. I dedicated my life to my career as a flight service controller. I worked shift work, weekends and missed many family events as a result. I paid more to my FERS retirement to qualify for an air traffic pension, but was six months, three weeks and two days short of qualifying for that pension. By not reaching 20 years in air traffic service time, I did not qualify for an ATC pension. That will cost me 14 percent in retirement benefits annually after I retire.
I had not worked in other ATC positions prior to age 31, so I was unqualified for those jobs. My only choice was to accept working for Lockheed Martin or move to Alaska to perform flight service functions. Based on political lobbying, Alaska flight services and employees remained with the FAA. As a single dad raising two high school children, moving them to Alaska and away from their extended family was not an option. I chose to work for Lockheed Martin in Millville and continue to search for federal employment with the promise the facility would remain open for three years. They lied. It closed 11 months later.
My options were moving at my expense to another Lockheed Martin location for an undetermined length of employment, or staying put and looking for employment elsewhere. Being 47 and a widowed single dad with a very narrow skill set, there was no employment available. I became unemployed for 11 months with only six months of unemployment checks. I tapped my TSP/401(k) account to pay bills and provide for my family.
Luckily, someone remembered my work from 15 years earlier. I got a GS-5 federal job. My previous grade being GS-12, my pay was cut 53 percent to reestablish federal employment. Imagine the impact to an individual and family of a 53 percent pay cut. The damage it did to me financially, physically and emotionally is indescribable.
Through time, hard work and great support, I have achieved my previous grade. Many of my former union brothers and sisters weren’t as lucky. Some had a breakup of their families. Others had intense stress causing serious health issues. Some lost homes.
My story is important since the thousands of employees at the technical center would be faced with these possibilities upon FAA privatization. Local, state and especially federal government representatives should oppose FAA privatization. Otherwise jobs may be lost.
Ron Consalvo, of Glassboro, is president of Local 200 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 340 federal employees at the tech center.