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FAA owes overtime to half of all air traffic controllers


FAA owes overtime to half of all air traffic controllers

19 August 2008 WASHINGTON - Even as the Federal Aviation Administration continues to battle its air traffic controllers over their pay and working conditions, a federal court in Washington has come down hard on the agency, ruling it owes almost half of its controllers 12 years worth of unpaid overtime.

The July 31 ruling by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims said the agency broke the Fair Labor Standards Act by denying 7,438 air traffic controllers overtime pay starting in 1996. The FAA argued it was exempt from the overtime pay law under a personnel system that Congress passed that year. Republicans controlled Congress then.

The ruling is separate from the ongoing struggle between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents approximately 14,000 controllers and 6,000 other workers, and the Bush FAA. That battle dates back to 2001, when the Bush administration unilaterally dumped a contract NATCA signed with FAA in the closing days of the Clinton administration. Bargaining resumed, with some progress over the years.

But in September 2006, the Bush FAA unilaterally declared a bargaining impasse and imposed its own terms: 20% pay cuts for the most-experienced controllers, a pay freeze for the rest and longer workweeks for many in one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S., keeping planes from crashing into each other in the air or at airports.

As a result,2,687 controllers have retired## out of a total force of just over 16,000## just in the last six months, NATCA says. All but 30 retired early due to the pay cuts and freeze. And through all of that, the controllers haven’t been paid overtime. That’s wrong, the judges said.

“The agency’s actions in implementing and maintaining the comp time and credit hours programs violated the FLSA,” the court ruled. In place of overtime, FAA had imposed a comp time system on the controllers, with “credit hours” for the amount of overtime they worked.

In practical terms, with the controller force being short-staffed the controllers got neither time-and-a-half pay for overtime nor the credit hours and comp time. NATCA brought the suit against the FAA last year. The suit noted, and the judges agreed, that that same 1996 FAA personnel system law barred the credit hour and comp time plans.
That left overtime as the only legal compensation for the controllers’ extra hours.

NATCA President Patrick Forrey called the court ruling “a resounding victory” for the union and the controllers.

“The court’s decision that our members are due financial compensation is an affirmation the FAA cannot railroad everything past NATCA without any oversight or accountability of federal laws, rules and regulations. This is a very important step in making our members whole again,” he said.

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