WASHINGTON – Wearing purple shirts, federal aviation workers joined by aviation industry employees and organizations rallied Thursday for an end to the three-week partial federal government shutdown
Air traffic controllers have been working without pay since the shutdown began Dec. 22, and for the first time ever, won’t be receiving paychecks for a full pay period. During previous shutdowns, according to National Air Traffic Controllers Association Communications Director Doug Church, employees received compensation for some part of the two-week pay period.
David Baker, an air traffic controller and Norfolk NATCA president, has been working without pay. He detailed all the companies that have sent him bills he cannot pay.
“I spent the last week calling all of those organizations trying to tell them that I don’t think I’m going to be able to make this month’s payment, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to make this month’s payment,” he said.
Bridget Tuarhir, who provides program support to technology operatives, has been furloughed for weeks because her job is not considered essential during shutdowns. She came to the rally as a member of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists.
“I saw this opportunity to come and be in solidarity with all the aviation safety people,” she said. “It wasn’t a question of if I was going to come. I was going to come.”
NACTA says that beyond missed pay, the shutdown has forced the closure of the Federal Aviation Administration Academy, a training center for controllers. Classroom and simulator training at air traffic control facilities has been paused and could be canceled if the shutdown continues. Newly-trained controllers have been furloughed.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers attended the rally.
“Aviation is not a political issue. It’s just too valuable to our economy,” said NATCA Communications Director Doug Church. “We are simply saying to open the government now, pay our controllers on time.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., told the crowd of air traffic controllers, “You’re going to work without support staff, the aviation specialists and all of the professionals who give you the backup that you need. And you’re out there anyway, doing your job.”
Bills to reopen parts of the government passed in the House Thursday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called House Democrats’ efforts “political stunts.” Solutions to the impasse over the border wall, the root of the shutdown, remains elusive.