Aviation workers protest: Shutdown poses dangers
Safety specialist compares situation to Swiss cheese
Brittany Covington is an airway transportation system specialist for the Federal Aviation Administration, maintaining the communication and navigation equipment used by pilots and air traffic controllers and the instrument landing systems that keep people safe.
She just got engaged over the holidays after purchasing her first home and completed about $20,000 in renovations to the house.
She gets paid twice a month, using one check to pay her bills and the other to pay for food and incidentals.
On Friday, that second check did not arrive.
“My bills are paid for now, but I’m paying for food out of my savings,” said Covington of Milwaukee, one of 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay due to the partial government shutdown that entered its 22nd day on Saturday.
On Saturday, Covington and about a dozen members of the Professional
Aviation Safety Specialists union picketed outside Mitchell International Airport to shine a spotlight on the risk the shutdown is posing to the flying public.
“Lots of people are familiar with the air traffic controllers or the (Transportation Safety Administration) workers. But they’re not familiar with people like me who maintain the safety of their flights,” said Covington, who remains on the job.
But while the safety of the flying public is literally in her hands, she said, her own economic safety is now in jeopardy.
“It’s very hard to be out there maintaining these systems while watching somebody else going on vacation and wondering if I can buy food,” said Covington, who is also president of the union’s Wisconsin chapter.
“It’s very hard to be out there maintaining these systems while watching somebody else going on vacation and wondering if I can buy food.”
Brittany Covington president of the Wisconsin chapter Professional Aviation Safety Specialists
Shutdown now longest in history
The partial government shutdown is now the longest in U.S. history.
It began after President Donald Trump refused to sign off on a stopgap spending bill unless it includes $5.7 billion for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The ensuing battle now pits the White House against congressional Democrats over the border wall funding.
Trump threatened in recent days to declare a national emergency so he can access federal funds to build the wall and allow the government to reopen, though he downplayed that threat Friday.
Nine federal departments and several smaller agencies — one-fourth of the federal government — remain closed as the standoff entered its fourth week with no end in sight.
Gambling with safety
Safety specialist Pete Rosa, who took part in the airport protest, said pay for the workers affected by the shutdown is just one issue. Just as important, he said, is the impact it is having on the aviation system.
“Every aviation safety inspector is furloughed right now,” Rosa said.
“These are the eyes and ears of the system. They provide oversight of every plane, every pilot, every maintenance repair operation, they’re out there making sure the rules and regulations are being enforced and they’re at home right now.”
Rosa said the aviation system is built on layers of safety and the safety inspectors are an intricate part of those layers.
“I can’t tell you the impact today, but I can tell you as time goes on, we’re really just rolling the dice,” Rosa said.
“Think of Swiss cheese. There’s holes in Swiss cheese. You can line it up and as you start slicing pieces away you’re shifting the holes around,” he said.
“Eventually you’re going to find yourself with a clear path for something to happen.”
The shutdown comes at a particularly tough time for Covington, who is planning her wedding. A few days ago, she was unable to pay the deposit on her wedding dress. Luckily, she said, the bridal shop is willing to wait until she gets paid.
But Covington has no idea when that will be.
“One of the happiest times of my life is now bittersweet,” she said.
“I guess for us, for better or for worse is starting early.”
Federal workers protest the government shutdown outside General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee onSaturday.