HOUSTON — The local head of the National Air Traffic Controllers union is calling on the federal government to end the nearly three-week long shutdown.
Chris Parris, local president for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, says more than 300 union members at his Houston control center have been guiding between 6,000 to 7,000 flights per day across Texas and the Southeastern U.S. without pay for 20 days and counting.
“The problem is the human toll that is being taken on the individuals that come here to work,” said Parris. “It’s not just one individual. They have families. Some of my co-workers have newborn babies. Some of my co-workers are planning on retiring any day, but they don’t feel like they can.”
Parris says though the controllers remain dedicated and focused, the open-ended shutdown is making an already stressful job tougher, especially when there are already fewer air traffic controllers handling more flights.
“How long can our controllers be expected to continue to come to work and continue to do their job and continue to focus on the critical job that they’re doing without any idea of when they’re gonna see their next paycheck?” he said.
The FAA has even given employees a letter for their creditors explaining the financial hardship the shutdown has created and asking for flexibility in paying their bills.
“We don’t want to get into the political end of it,” said Parris. “Our message is very simple: We want the shutdown to stop.”
Parris says dozens of support staff in Houston have also been furloughed, and their projects have been put on hold.
While sick call-outs have not been an issue like at some other agencies, Parris is worried that roughly 1,900 controllers nationwide who are eligible for retirement may decide to leave an already short-staffed field.
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