Last week began with the hustle and bustle of any other work week at New York's LaGuardia Airport–except among the workers hired to demolish the old air traffic control tower. Luca Toscano of Paul Scariano, Inc., had to deliver a painful message to his 40 employees: "Congress didn’t do its job. So, you are barred from doing yours."
At airports across America, the same story has been taking place. With unemployment in the construction sector running in the double digits, Congress' failure to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration forced the FAA to issue stop-work orders on dozens of control tower construction projects already underway.
The result? As many as 70,000 construction workers and workers in related fields told they cannot come to their jobs. In addition, 4,000 FAA employees have been sent home without pay in 35 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
This is devastating news for them. Tens of thousands of American households won’t receive paychecks–while their rent or mortgages, grocery costs, and back-to-school bills continue to pile up. Contractors will stop buying supplies. Small business owners will buy fewer goods for their restaurants and stores.
These are blows America simply can’t afford. And for what? As Paul Fernandes of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York said, "We're losing jobs not because of forces beyond our control, but because of political dysfunction in Congress."
So, I hope Fast Lane readers will join me in calling on Congress to pass a clean FAA bill.
On 20 separate occasions since 2007, Congress has passed short-term measures to keep the FAA up and running. And there is absolutely no reason that Congress can’t pass another clean extension while it works out the details of a longer-term vision for the future of America’s air transportation system.
“No doubt there are important policy questions that need to be resolved with the aviation legislation," said Stephen E. Sandherr chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America. "But construction workers shouldn't have to suffer because Washington hasn't figured out a way to work out its differences.”.
That's exactly what Paul Fernandes was thinking when he said, "We have a simple message for Congress: You don't go on vacation from your jobs until you do your work to protect our jobs."
He's right about that. Members of Congress need to do their work on behalf of the American people so they don't get on a plane to fly home for vacation without passing an FAA bill.
Tens of thousands of jobs and the best aviation system in the world depend on it.