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FAA: Air traffic contract talks not over

The air traffic controllers' union said Friday that contract talks with the Federal Aviation Administration have ended, but the agency said they have not.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The air traffic controllers’ union said Friday that contract talks with the Federal Aviation Administration had ended, but the agency said they had not.

“Contract talks are over,” said National Air Traffic Controllers Association spokesman Doug Church.

“Neither side in the negotiating room at the table has declared impasse,” countered FAA spokesman Greg Martin.

Martin said the FAA’s negotiators had agreed to meet again with the union negotiators Tuesday. He suggested that NATCA President John Carr was out of touch with his negotiators.

Carr said next week’s meeting was merely a formality that had to happen before an impasse is declared.

“We can hand them a manila folder full of stuff and leave,” Carr said.

Either way, there is no agreement on a new pact.

John Arnold, spokesman for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which is mediating the dispute, said talks have recessed.

“They could be reconvened at any point depending on future communication with the parties,” Arnold said.

The talks began in July, at the end of a five-year contract that expired Sept. 30, 2003, but was extended for two years with minor changes.

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said controllers make far more money than other public servants, control scheduling and hold back modernization projects.

Carr has said the FAA is hostile to controllers, who are concerned about the system’s safety and efficiency because of the agency’s reluctance to deal with modernization problems.

He said the union has offered the FAA $1.4 billion in savings through a pay cut followed by a pay freeze.

Blakey said she hasn’t seen such an offer. “We are not talking about pay cuts,” she said.

Though the specter of the 1981 controllers’ strike looms over the upcoming negotiations, both Carr and Blakey have said they can’t imagine a strike.

“We do not expect them to strike,” said Martin.

A wave of controller retirements is expected in the next decade. Most of the current air traffic controllers are replacements for controllers who were fired by President Reagan in 1981 for striking the government illegally.

Under federal law, Congress would have 60 days to intercede if an impasse is declared. If lawmakers failed to act, the FAA would impose its last, best contract offer.

Carr said the dispute should be settled by a federal panel, not Congress.

The union announced Friday it would launch an advertising campaign to urge Congress to pass a law that would prevent the FAA from imposing its offer.