Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Smell of Rot

You may have noticed from the October 15th FAA History post that my old place of employment (emphasis on old), Atlanta Center, is entering its 47th year in the same building. You might think that would explain the current mold problem but it doesn’t. The air traffic control operation was actually moved into a new control room (that was attached to the old building) about two decades ago.

When we moved out of the old control room, it was sealed off. It was full of asbestos. There’s nothing like the sight of continuous-air-monitoring pumps and a closet full of respirators (both of which the union had to fight for) to instill confidence in your highly skilled, safety-critical workforce. In that I was the safety rep for Atlanta Center, I had several opportunities to peek behind the curtain and see the filth in the nooks and crannies of the old control room. The dust on the wiring behind the radar scopes was literally an inch thick.

When we moved into the new control room, we were assured that they’d never let the new control room become dirty like the previous one. Sure.

What I find interesting about the current situation is the fact that the contractor walked off the job. As I understand it, one company came in to “abate” the asbestos (that means remove it or seal it up -- in place) and then a different contractor came in to remodel and rebuild. They’re the guys mentioned in the news (here’s the latest story) that walked off the job when the mold problem was discovered.

Asbestos is some nasty stuff. You can get a quick read on it at Wikipedia. You might be surprised how long the health problems have been known. What I find most interesting is that the construction contractors were willing to deal with the “abated” asbestos but drew the line at dealing with the mold. And it wasn’t the workers mind you -- it was the company that pulled the plug.

In that I’m married to a Yankee I know how confusing the perceptions behind this issue can be. She still thinks unions have some power in the workplace. That was the world in which she grew up. Unions never had that kind of power down here. Now, they hardly have any power at all.

It will be interesting to see how much power a U.S. Congressman has. In case you didn’t read the story at the link I supplied, the entire Georgia Congressional delegation signed a letter of concern to the FAA about the working conditions at Atlanta Center. Start your stop watch. See how long it takes the FAA to do something constructive.

I hope you’ll take a few moments to reflect on the “checks and balances” and the potential for abuse in the way this system -- your government -- is set up. The same government that would shut down any “business” that was operated in this manner continues to operate Atlanta Center (and it’s not the only facility with this problem.) You might wonder, where is OSHA in all this ? Check the newspaper article. Do you see any mention of OSHA ? I know where they are. I used to be the union’s safety rep, remember ? You wouldn’t believe the answer if I told you. I’m one of those bad union guys. Find out the truth for yourself. Ask your Congressman why OSHA is missing in action.

The contractor’s workers didn’t walk off the job. It wasn’t the workers and it wasn’t the union that shut down the job site. Come to think of it, it wasn’t OSHA either. It was the employer -- the contractor. I guess trial lawyers are still feared even if unions aren’t. And while you’re on that thought, who do you think will be left holding the bag if the FAA is successfully sued ? That’s right, you, the taxpayer will be.

In the mean time, the controllers and other employees of the FAA just have to sit there and take it. I know you’re just hoping they don’t have to sneeze or cough when they need to turn your airplane but I’m hoping you’ll look beyond that. I’m hoping you have a sense of fairness, justice and just a little compassion for your employees. Don’t expect that out of the FAA. According to my sources, they’re still counseling controllers about using too much sick leave. No, I’m not kidding. If you get sick in a “sick” building you can get a letter in your employment file that can help get you fired. I think we’ve already covered the part about going on strike.

Tell me, which part of our government is supposed to help these people -- our employees and fellow citizens ? Is the “We the People” part of our government broken too ? We won’t let them go on strike. We won’t let them stage a job action to call attention to their plight. We won’t even let them call in sick without threatening to fire them. What will we do besides letting them sit there and rot ?

Contact information:

The President of the United States of America

The United States Senate

The United States House of Representatives

Don Brown
October 17, 2007

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