Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood was on Fox News Sunday today where the line of questioning about the problem of air traffic controllers who fall asleep on the job was turned into an attacks on unions by host Chris Wallace, who began with the question, “If the union is part of the problem, why have them be part of the solution?”
Here is the video from Media Matters:
Here is the transcript from Fox News:
WALLACE: Now, you just said that you are sending the head of the FAA and the head of the air traffic controllers union around nationwide study, interview controllers, find out what the problem is. If the union — and as we pointed out that these compressed schedules to get long weekends off — if the union is part of the problem, why have them be part of the solution? Why not have an independent study, these interested parties go in and look and say, “Here’s what the problem”?
LAHOOD: Look, Chris. We have a contractual agreement with the union, which languished for five years previously. When we came in, we reached an agreement with the controllers. And — look, we have to be partners with the controllers. They are the ones that are in the control towers. There are over 15,000 controllers, Chris. And we have received e-mails from them over the last few days. They are also concerned about this. They are also about — concerned about their good name. And they want to make sure that safety is number one. And that they have people that are in these towers that are doing the right thing.
So, look, they’re our partners and we have to work with them. They’re going to be the ones that are in the towers. And if we don’t work these things out with them — but they agreed to these three points that I just made, these three changes which are pretty significant changes. If they are not quite right, I guarantee you, they’ll be with us in further changes that need be made.
WALLACE: But, you know, again, we are talking about safety. The Seattle controller who fell asleep not once but twice in January was back at the job and he was the one, same controller, who fell asleep this month. Why wasn’t he fired?
LAHOOD: Well, because there are investigations that have to go on. If it was up to me, Chris, more action would have been taken. But when the investigations are complete, you’ll be hearing from the administrator of the FAA. Look, we take it seriously.
WALLACE: But is part of it are also the unions? That it’s hard to fire a union employee?
LAHOOD: Well, there are certain provisions in the contract that allow for these investigations and allow for the kind of review. And when that’s complete, you’ll be hearing for us. We’re not going to countenance, we’re not going to sit by and let controllers fall asleep in control towers with the ability to come back and, you know, have the ability to continue to do those jobs.
WALLACE: I mean, forgive me for being skeptical. But if a guy is able to fall asleep twice in January and comes back and falls asleep in April, and you, as the secretary of transportation, or head of the FAA, can’t fire him, isn’t that a problem?
LAHOOD: Well, Chris, we can — we can fire him. But there has to be due diligence and there has to be an opportunity for an investigation to go on so that we have, make sure we have the information.
On my watch, we’re not going to allow controllers to fall asleep in the control towers and continue to do their job. We’re not — that’s why these controllers have been suspended. Chris, as soon as I found out about it, they were suspended.
There have been 5 recent incidents where controllers have fallen asleep during an overnight shift. The FAA sees this as a scheduling problem and has mandate that controllers get an extra hour of rest between scheduled shifts, and more managers will be placed on duty during the overnight/early morning hours.
The union (National Air Traffic Controllers Association) believes that the one person overnight shifts are unsafe. In a March 24 statement, the NATCA said, “NATCA has long been outspoken in its opposition to one-person staffing on any shift. In fact, the NATCA membership, in its strong commitment to aviation safety, adopted language in its formal constitution nearly 20 years ago opposing one-person staffing on a shift. That language remains in effect today.”
There have been 5 recent incidents where controllers have fallen asleep during an overnight shift. The FAA sees this as a scheduling problem and has mandated that controllers get an extra hour of rest between scheduled shifts, and more managers will be placed on duty during the overnight/early morning hours.
The real question, which Fox News didn’t bother to address, is why haven’t Republicans passed the bill to fund the FAA? If airport safety is such a concern, why has the funding bill been extending 18 times, but not passed. By foot-dragging on funding for the FAA House Republicans are making it less safe for Americans to fly.
LaHood got the full Fox News treatment in this interview. Wallace’s entire line of questioning was based on the faulty premise that unions are to blame for the problem of air traffic controllers falling asleep during their late night shifts. LaHood never bothered to counter Wallace’s initial premise, disguised as a question, that unions are part of the problem. LaHood accepted Wallace’s premise as fact.
In the interest of bipartisanship, Obama appointed a Republican to be his Transportation Secretary. Not just any Republican, but a Republican who was rated anti-union by the AFL-CIO. A Republican who while he was in the House voted for union issues 29% of the time. LaHood voted no on The Employee Free Choice Act, which would have restricted an employer’s ability to interfere in union organizing activities.
LaHood was immediately put on the defensive by Wallace’s line of questioning, but he shouldn’t have been surprised. Ever since he was tapped to be the only Republican in Obama’s cabinet, the right has really turned on him. LaHood was never a big supporter of the GOP’s more far right efforts, and joining the Obama team as the “ambassador to the GOP” turned him into the enemy.
LaHood should have expected this kind of treatment and countered Fox’s terminally intellectually flawed message by turning the discussion back to the facts. The union is not to blame for this problem. The truth is that ever since Ronald Reagan’s famed gutting of the air traffic controllers, safety concerns have become more common.
Fox News would never admit to the GOP’s role in making it less safe to fly in America, but would it have been too much to ask of Obama’s Transportation Secretary to not sit back and let Fox News spread their anti-propaganda unchallenged?
Ray LaHood should have grounded Chris Wallace’s flight of anti-union fancy before it got off the ground.
Being a Republican cabinet member in a Democratic administration has to be tough, but if LaHood can’t adequately defend the White House position on Fox News, he probably shouldn’t be on television, or in the cabinet.
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