Friday, February 15, 2008

A World Apart

Let’s see now...where were we ? Oh yes. At the beginning of this month I told you about the shortage of air traffic controllers in Australia leading to the occasional closing of airspace. This week it’s the same story on the other side of the planet -- Ireland.

”Last Saturday a dozen flights were cancelled at Shannon Airport after the controllers refused to work overtime. There was also disruption at Shannon earlier last Wednesday night and last month 32 flights at Dublin airport were also grounded by the dispute.“

I’m intrigued by the (seemingly) worldwide shortage of controllers (why and why now ?) and I’m fascinated by the responses in each country. Australia just closes up shop, announces the airspace is uncontrolled and says “y'all be careful.” The Irish “close the airport.“ Of course, that is just what I’m learning from the Press and we all know how the Press can get an aviation story wrong.

What seems to be clear in this story, though, is that the Irish controllers can refuse to work overtime. American controllers can say they don’t want to work overtime but they can’t refuse it. Trust me on this one. There’s a story going around amongst controllers that an ARTCC controller worked 16 hours the other day (actually night) when the midnight shift didn’t show up and management couldn’t find a replacement. If true (and every indication so far leads me to believe it is true) it would be a violation of the FAA’s own policies. Controllers are limited to 10 hour days for safety reasons (i.e. fatigue.) If American controllers could actually refuse overtime we would be shutting our airports down too.

As I hope I’ve made clear numerous times, American Federal employees might be allowed a union but they have very little power. I know that many people don’t believe this -- the right wing of the Republican party has had a very successful propaganda campaign in place for years to convince people otherwise. Regardless of the propaganda, I think incidents like this make the truth clear. If American controllers could refuse overtime as a labor tactic they would. But they don’t have the right to refuse overtime so the point is moot.

If you take that fact to the theoretical realm it starts to get uncomfortable. It is a bedrock belief in unions that an individual has the right to refuse work. That doesn’t mean a right to refuse work without consequences -- it just means it is a right. Think “unalienable Right” -- like Liberty. Without the Right to refuse work you are nothing but a slave.

What is fair -- what is Just -- then becomes a matter of consequences. If the consequence of refusing work is to lose your Life, then you are still a slave. If the consequence of refusing work is to lose your Liberty, you are still enslaved. Do you remember the images of the PATCO controllers in chains after refusing to work ?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We talk much of Freedom in the United States. Perhaps we should do a little more thinking and a little less talking.

When the Republican right wing loses this argument on its merits they proceed to play the fear card. They would have you believe that America would fall into utter chaos. Our standing in the world would be threatened. If unions were given any power it would threaten America’s standard of living.

I’ve referred you to the Human Development Index before and it’s worth taking another look. Australia (#3) and Ireland (#5) are both rated above the United States (#12.) Furthermore, if you’ll take the time to look, the U.S. has a down arrow next to its listing. Do you think Ireland’s standing in the world is threatened because their air traffic controllers can refuse to work overtime ?

Unions don’t threaten America, freedom or our economy. Excessive power in the hands of any one organization does threaten us -- and anybody else. That organization could be a union organization. Or it can be a business organization. Or a political party. Or a government. The phrase “checks and balances” comes to mind.

Keeping organizations in check so as to provide a balance of power is a constant, never-ending battle. You’ve got to ask yourself a question or two. Who has too much power right now -- at this moment in time ? How can you tell ? The same way you can always tell.


Don Brown
February 15, 2008

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