Jan 11, 2019, 3:20 PM ET

Air traffic controllers suing Trump administration over missed pay during shutdown

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is suing the Trump administration on behalf of the thousands of members of their union that have not been paid during the protracted showdown over border wall funding between the president and congressional Democrats.

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The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., claims the administration has violated the Fifth Amendment by depriving workers of wages without due process and violated fair labor regulations by not at least paying minimum wage to air traffic controllers and others who are exempted from furlough during the government shutdown. The suit also claims the FAA didn't promptly pay overtime to union members, an oversight the union says is also in violation of regulations.

PHOTO: An airport worker signals an airplane pilot in an undated stock photo.STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images
An airport worker signals an airplane pilot in an undated stock photo.

The shutdown is hitting U.S. air traffic controllers particularly hard because their numbers are already at a 30-year low, according to NATCA. The number of fully certified air traffic controllers, as they're called, is 10,500 -- the union would ideally like to have 2,000 more. And approximately 2,000 of them are scheduled to retire this year.

The mandatory retirement age for controllers is 56.

Air traffic controllers are generally required to work their highly stressful job of guiding aircraft through the nation's airspace throughout the shutdown without pay.

"It is an unconscionable thing to think that in a profession like ours where safety in the skies is of the utmost importance that we would not get paid," said Jim Marinitti, an air traffic controller in Miami.

More than 200 people were in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon attending a rally organized by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and leaders from the aviation community over the issue.

Those tasked with keeping U.S. skies safe, with or without pay, had a clear message to deliver: every day the shutdown continues makes the aviation system a little less safe.

"I can't predict what would happen to the system if we had to go on for months or years," said Rob Hoss, a controller based in Tampa, referring to the President Donald Trump's suggestion the shutdown could continue for that long. "There's nobody that can understand that detriment that would be undertaken to the to the flying public if this had to go on any further."

While the shutdown looms, maintenance, inspection, training and modernization programs are deferred. Many FAA safety employees and support staff cannot go to work.

"While we are doing the day to day tasks there's a lot of things that are falling through the cracks," Portland International Airport tower controller Richard Kennington told ABC News. "There's a lot of insidious stuff that the flying public doesn't see that's not happening."

ABC News' Christine Theodorou and Nate Luna contributed to this report.

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  • Lovejoy

    NATCA has a good argument, on both issues.

  • AuthorSue

    Sue the Democrats. They caused this. For no solid reason at all.

  • Terry Moore

    I've read through the remarks, hilarious how some were about what time Trump gets up, as if they know. Hater's got to hate.
    The Democrat's shut down the government in February 2018, where was the out cry then? And to think I was a Democrat, not any more!

  • moving33

    The government has foolishly spent and now must raise the national debt limit which now amounts to approx. $100, 000 per citizen. Can we afford that??? Maybe, the airlines should pay since they benefit from their services and not the working blue collar worker or send out a bill for $100,000 to each citizen with non payers being held in contempt of court like child support in jail.

  • Donald Gitschier

    To ALL of the so-called educated folks out there. Basic civics 101. The House passes a spending bill, then to the Senate. 60 votes for cloture or a filibuster. SMUCK Schumer shutdown the government with the filibuster in the Senate before the New Year. So if he allows cloture on that bill, the Senate votes and if approved, off to the president for veto or signature. So SMUCK Schumer shutdown the government and STUPID PEOPLE think the president did. NOT UNTIL HE VETOES A BILL, IS IT HIS SHUTDOWN, JUST LIKE THE LAST 1 DURING OWEblamea's presidency

  • Sharon Bice

    Federal workers can not sue the Government. That's suing the people! Also Obama shut down the Government five times, where was the out cry! Dems can stop this shut down if they chose to put Americas people lives first, and the sovegity of our country! They continue to put others before the American people. They are pathetic, and they will be the death of our country following the muslim brotherhood.

  • Filan

    Congress critters should not get paid during shutdowns and all political lobbying and donation should be frozen as well that way the critters have no gravy trains. Additionally presidential travel should be restricted except for vital needs of the state during a shutdown.

  • horn llp

    So President Reagan... fired you Fathers...few years back...don't forget your a employee!

  • horn llp

    Reagan branded the strike illegal. He threatened to fire any controller who failed to return to work within 48 hours. Federal judges levied fines of $1 million per day against the union.

    In 1955, Congress made such strikes punishable by fines or a one-year jail term — a law the Supreme Court upheld in 1971.

    To the chagrin of the strikers, the FAA’s contingency plans worked. Some 3,000 supervisors joined 2,000 nonstriking controllers and 900 military controllers in manning airport towers. Before long, about 80 percent of flights were operating normally. Air freight remained virtually unaffected.

    In carrying out his threat, Reagan also imposed a lifetime ban on rehiring the strikers. In October 1981, the Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified PATCO.

  • SJC

    He could do what Reagan did, just fire them all. /s

  • RjD

    This was tried once before.... in the 80's.... And Reagan, in his awesome fashion, handled it appropriately. He threaten them all; Go back to work or you are all fired.

    And that was the end of the Air traffic controllers strike. Don't think The Donald will not hesitate to do the same.

  • Reggie Mason

    This is a test. Are not stubborn Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Schumer responsible as well. Go ahead ABC delete my post now that it can viewed as opposite of ABC'S opinion.

  • Ron Hedman

    He's a mad dog that keeps biting the hands that feed him. We all know what that leads to. Lock him up!

  • Ron Hedman

    Do you still believe in this president and his loathsome cronies? Now that this boyman's childishness is endangering the lives of all Americans. From TSA agents to air traffic controllers, to our food inspectors and on and on. When do you say enough is enough? When does America say we have had enough of this self serving dinosaur of a leader and his swamp rats?

  • reality25

    But Trump said that they would be happy to lose their paychecks and work for free. The Trump ego wall is all that they need.

  • Truthful Opinion

    I wish them the best of luck with their lawsuit. I saw on MSNBC that because of the shutdown the federal courts will run out of money next week. A lot of cases will grind to a halt.

  • Toshiro Histugaya

    Good - I hope they win.

  • Tanya Henderson

    This is getting to be scary. How can the president jeopardize the lives of so many people. Its not just about paychecks anymore. 25th amendment already.

  • Edup McD

    This now the 3rd lawsuit against Trump for the shut down ...
    Let's how many more get racked up before his tantrum is done with ...

  • Dave Corsaro

    Donald, if something happens to any flight of an aircraft where we would have overworked or non existent air traffic controllers, it will be ON YOU !

  • Prophet With Honor

    OK, you've got the record so end the game and get everybody back to work.

  • snakeice64

    Something to ponder in my lifetime the "Financial responsibility, small government party" has placed us in the red numerous times but the "big government, spend your taxes party" has started us on an economically healthy path each time.

  • TexasVulcan

    Suing Trump. And Trump just says "get in line".

  • romando benetiz

    The longest shut down in history... way to go loser-in-chief..
    the buffoon-in-chief probably has stocks in INDEED, since we are now looking for anyone with flight experience..
    Atleast they stated the 'trump administration', so at least we know who to blame for all this madness..