WASHINGTON — Just-posted pay stubs for the nation's air traffic controllers read "$0.00" thanks to the 20-day government shutdown. The empty paychecks are slated to go out Friday.
“No other employer would get away with not paying its employees,” said Richard Santa, an air traffic controller at Washington Center in Leesburg, Va. and union representative for the 20,000-member National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "We have been dutifully working during the shutdown to ensure safe and orderly travel."
While controllers are deemed essential government employees and still reporting to work, 3,000 support staff such as engineers are furloughed, effectively halting technology upgrades, hiring, and planning for major air traffic events such as Super Bowl LIII.
“When you can’t plan for these events, you have to put better safety measures in place,” said Santa, meaning that controllers might not be able to handle as many planes closer together.
The airspace in the Washington region is some of the most dynamic in the country thanks to ever-changing weather and restricted zones for national security. Ironically, controllers from Washington Center handled Air Force One as President Trump traveled to the Southern Border on Thursday.
“We always bring our a-game and we’re required to be there,” said Santa, “but it has nothing to do with the disagreements between Congress and the Administration.”