Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
FAA Shutdown: Workers Turned Away, Air Traffic Controllers Frustrated
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - 03:21 PM
When the Federal Aviation Administration shut down at midnight on Friday, 4,000 workers were immediately furloughed. In the greater New York City area alone, 646 employees at the agency's tech center in Atlantic City and 125 workers in New York have been told to not show up to work. But the effects of the shutdown are spreading far beyond the agency's employees.
Construction company managers are turning workers away who show up for a day's work -- while air traffic controllers say they feel like "political pawns."
The US Department of Transportation says New Jersey has lost $44.7 million for airport projects across the state and New York has lost $62.6 million. Projects that have been issued stop work orders include a $20 million runway safety project at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport and a $10 million security bollards project at LaGuardia Airport.
Another job that's on hold: a $6 million teardown of an old air traffic control tower at LaGuardia -- a project singled out by US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as a galling example of congressional inaction.
Luca Toscano is the vice president at Paul J. Scariano, Inc. - the Brooklyn-based construction company that holds that contract. Toscano said that the demolition project has a crew of about 40-45 people, and he had to tell them to turn around and go home on Sunday night when they showed up for work. "Some people took the situation a little bit drastic, because some of them came from prior layoffs, start a new project, start a new work, some of them were very understanding of the situation...they understand there's nothing they can do about it."
Toscano is also concerned that the longer the shutdown goes on, the more likely his workers are to start looking for other work. "We fought hard enough to get the right people for the right job, and right now I'm afraid we'll lose some of these people," he said. "If there's no stability, what else are they going to do? They've got to feed their families."
He's also worried about the actual work area at the airport. "You have a scaffold that is structured to be maintained at all times. It's a suspended scaffold...if there's a situation of heavy winds, in a storm, there's a possibility of something flying away. (And) down below there are airplanes in stages of being loaded and unloaded. There's a lot of liability there."
A few miles southwest of LaGuardia, Stephen Abraham is an air traffic controller at JFK Airport in Queens. He's also the local president for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a union which represents 1,100 of the furloughed FAA employees.
While all the air traffic controllers are still working, Abraham said "many of our co-workers -- engineers, architects, all people who kind of work behind the scenes, to let us do what we do every day -- aren't at work."
It's a situation he and his colleagues find frustrating. "The folks in Washington keep using the expression ''kicking the can.' They've kicked the can of FAA reauthorization 21 times. You don't like to be the political pawn, and that's what we're feeling like. "
Work has been halted on an $8 million job to rehab some of JFK's runways. Another JFK job that's ground to a halt? The controllers' break room, which was in the middle of a refurbishment. Now Abraham's office is serving as the makeshift break room.
Congressman John Mica - the head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- told reporters yesterday that he has 'no idea" when the FAA will reopen. This doesn't sit well with Abraham.
"The furloughs are bad," he said. "These are your coworkers who all of a sudden aren't getting paid -- but it doesn't seem like with what's going on with the debt ceiling this is not tops on the list of things to get done in Washington."
For a list of projects that have halted, you can visit the FAA's website here.