Today marks Marion Blakey’s exit as the 15th Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. If she is better remembered than William F. McKee, John H. Schaffer or John L. McLucas, it won’t be because of her accomplishments. She will be remembered by thousands of controllers. She won’t be remembered with fondness.
I suspect history will put her in the category of just another soldier following orders. Those orders came (ostensibly) from President Bush through the Secretary of Transportation. I think it worth noting that the voiding of the contract with air traffic controllers occurred during the absence of a Secretary of Transportation. Norm Mineta -- the only Democrat serving on the Bush Cabinet -- resigned as the Secretary of Transportation on July 7, 2006. The FAA imposed their work rules on September 3, 2006. I wonder if imposing those work rules was an order that Mr. Mineta wasn’t going to carry out. Hopefully, one day, history will tell us.
Regardless, Ms. Blakey did carry them out. She did so in true Republican political fashion. She choose Labor Day as the day to implement them -- a political statement almost as cruel in its symbolism as Ronald Reagan’s speech about “State’s Rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
I guess it will come as no surprise to you that, in imposing those work rules, she broke her word.
You see, two years previously, she had signed a contract -- on behalf of the United States government -- that agreed to a two year extension of the last negotiated contract between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Federal Aviation Administration. That contract reads in part’ “If negotiations are not completed prior to the expiration date, this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect until a new Agreement is reached.“. You can color it anyway you like but imposing work rules on your workforce isn’t an “Agreement.” The President’s name isn’t on that contract, the Congress’ name isn’t on it -- Marion Blakey’s name is.
There are all sorts of legal arguments that Ms. Blakey can fall back on -- rationalizations and justifications. There always are. They may earn her accolades in the halls of business and a half-million dollar salary in her next career. But in my world -- in the world of air traffic controllers -- your word means something.
September 13, 2007