Controller families weather hardships of strike

Jim Morin, his wife, Elaine, and their two young children are spending a lot of time picketing at La Guardia Airport these days. Mr. Morin, a former US military air traffic controller in Thailand for 6 1/2 years, spent the last five years as a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controller. On Aug. 3 he joined more than 12,000 other civilian air traffic controllers who went on strike.

If nothing else, for both Mr. Morin and his wife, herself a former air controller; the strike has dramatized the need to make the nation's airspace as safe as possible, even though he may never get his job back.

"This is a crisis of principles, of character," says Mrs. Morin. "My husband went out for something he believed in, something he still believes in." Mr. Morin, a former controller at the La Guardia control tower, said he believed that even before the controllers walked off the job US airspace was not as safe as it should be because many controllers were not doing their best because of the heavy work load.

Interviews with striking air controllers in the New York area show that:

* Many, like Jim Morin, say that the real issue was the workweek, and that they would have been happy with no raise.

* Some said that if they had known how the Reagan administration would respond they might not have walked off the job.

* Many, despite outward displays of confidence that a settlement can still be negotiated, are searching for new jobs.

* Most, but not all, have no dire financial problems. Some said they may have to sell their homes and move to less expensive locations. Their families have been a great source of moral and, where necessary, financial support.

* On the issue of air safety in the wake of the strike, the controllers interviewed were divided. Not all said the skys were unsafe without them.

Some said they just didn't know what it was like in the control towers these days.Others said that supervisers who were manning radar scopes had told them personally that they were getting tired from the long hours. Still others said that they didn't want a mishap to take place to prove they were right.

"Most controllers," said Jim Morin, "we'd be satisfied with no money [ increase]. The biggest problem with this job is the number of hours worked, and the retirement threshold. There's something wrong when only 11 percent of the controllers are making their retirement."

Currently, under most circumstances, a federal air traffic controller has to work 25 years to collect benefit. PATCO wanted this reduced to 20.

Michael Bordner, another youthful New York area controller with five years experience in addition to a stint as an Air Force controller, agreed that the major issue was the shorter workweek, which could improve safety as well as lengthen his career.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.