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Air Traffic Controllers work dispute goes to Congress

For nearly five months, bargainers with the FAA and the Controllers union negotiated pay scales and work rules. But, no agreement was reached. So, the agency turned to congress. It wants federal lawmakers to impose what it calls its "best and final" offer. At Port Columbus, Curtis Beery is among 45 air traffic controllers who staff the tower around the clock.

He says "Our job is to keep airplanes full of people from colliding in the skies. And quite frankly that is stressful and we feel that with the conplex set of rules we have to apply on a daily basis we need to be adequately compensated."

Beery says even though bargainers are at impasse, controllers will not strike or take any job action. He says the current workforce remembers a contract dispute from two decades ago that resulted in mass firings of air traffic controllers by the Reagan Administration.

"Most of our controllers which were hired to replace those who were fired were hired in 1982-83 and 84.And so, all of those folks are coming up on retirement. That's why we need to replace so many controllers in a short period of time," Beery explained.

The FAA currently employs nearly 15-thousand controllers at airports across the country. Spokesman Geoff Basye (Ba'-see)says 37-hundred controllers, or more than 20 percent of the current workforce is eligible to retire by the end of 2007. At Port Columbus, 13 of 45 controllers are nearing returement. Bayse says the FAA needs what he calls "flexibility" in work rules to help train and hire so many new controllers.

"Whats at stake with this contract certainly is the long-term viability of America's air traffic control system. And that includes a transition to a more satellite-based. higher technology system that will make traveling through the air even safer," Bayse said.

Bayse says it was "unfortunate" the FAA had to go to congress. Lawmakers have until June 5th to act on the proposed agreement. In the interim, the controllers union has bought television ad time. asking viewers to write their congress member in opposition to the FAA proposal.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says its contract proposal calls for a starting pay of 42-thousand 700 dollars with increases to nearly 91-thousand dollars. The FAA wants to start controllers at 36-thousand dollars annually and increase pay to more than 63-thousand after training and more experience. US taxpayers and the airline industry will provide the funds to pay for the new contract.