Avi­a­tion work­ers protest: Shut­down poses dan­gers

Safety spe­cial­ist com­pares sit­u­a­tion to Swiss cheese

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Jesse Garza Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

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.”

JESSE GARZA / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Fed­eral work­ers protest the gov­ern­ment shut­down out­side Gen­eral Mitchell Air­port in Mil­wau­kee onSatur­day.

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