Federal safety workers who inspect aircraft said Tuesday the partial government shutdown is still creating unnecessary risk despite a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to recall some furloughed engineers and inspectors.
The New England chapter of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union and the AFL-CIO held an informational picket Tuesday at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks over possible safety issues due to the shutdown. It marked the first such picket in the region since the partial shutdown. The union plans to hold others, possibly at airports in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Mark Dunlap, the local chapter's president, said there are about 130 aviation safety workers from his union working in New England. Most are inspectors and most, if not all, have been furloughed. It was unclear how many will be recalled.
"The fact that these guys aren't inspecting the aircraft and holding air carriers to the rules and regulations that they fall under, it just adds a small piece of risk in there that shouldn't be happening," Dunlap said.
According to the Connecticut AFL-CIO, there are approximately 87 workers represented by PASS assigned to jobs in Connecticut. That includes 44 aviation safety inspectors or employees who provide administrative support, most of whom have been furloughed. The remaining workers include mostly technicians and others who are still working, but without pay.
An FAA statement released Monday night said more than 800 employees, including safety inspectors, were being recalled across the country. The FAA could not immediately provide an accounting of how many work in New England.
The FFA said approximately 200 engineers, inspectors and safety staff across the country will be recalled in the Aircraft Certification Service, which provides oversight of manufacturers who produce aviation parts and products. More than 600 inspectors and safety staff in the Flight Standards Service are being recalled to provide oversight of major airlines. Additionally, approximately 25 physicians and support staff that support the FAA and industry drug and alcohol testing programs and the air traffic controller health program will be recalled.
Bob Berlyn, a furloughed operations inspector assigned to the FAA's Burlington, Mass. office, said he has not yet been told whether he'll be returned to work. While pleased some workers are being recalled, Berlyn remains concerned considering most of the 3,000 members of his bargaining unit were furloughed across the country.
"I don't think that's enough," he said of the recalls.
According to the FAA's Sept. 27 government shutdown contingency plan, its furloughed staff includes 2,490 positions in the Office of Aviation Safety "who will be recalled to work incrementally over a two-week period."
National PASS President Mike Perrone said the union "appreciates the FAA working within the constraints of this government shutdown to bring back critical safety employees, but we stand firm in the belief that all 3,000 aviation safety inspectors need to be back on the job immediately."
He said there was a problem with understaffing even before the shutdown.
Berlyn said he and his fellow inspectors were surprised they were furloughed, given the importance of their jobs. He said they try to discover small risks before they result in major catastrophes.
"The longer this goes on, the more risk is not mitigated," he said. "We don't want to be out here. We want to be back to work."
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