House vote lends hope to airport workers


Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
A vote Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives would stop a plan to privatize flight service operations, giving 45 workers in Gainesville hope their jobs will be spared.
But to become law, the proposal must first pass the Senate, survive a conference committee and overcome opposition by the Bush Administration.
"A vote in the House is important - but it's just the beginning," said Larry Dupre, spokesman for the union representing workers at the Gainesville Automated Flight Service Station.
In February, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin won a $1.9 billion contract to take over services now performed by 2,500 government employees at 58 flight service stations. The company announced it would consolidate operations and close 38 stations, including the one at Gainesville Regional Airport.
While air traffic controllers in airport towers help pilots take off and land planes, off-site flight service specialists help pilots plan their flights, prepare for inclement weather and avoid no-fly zones. They also coordinate search-and-rescue operations for missing planes.
An amendment to the transportation appropriations bill, sponsored by Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, would keep the jobs part of the Federal Aviation Administration. The House passed the measure 238-177.
A spokesman for the FAA, Greg Martin, said the company will save the government $2.2 billion over 10 years while improving services. But Sanders' spokeswoman, Erin Campbell, said the savings would come at the cost of airline passengers' safety.
"It's not something we should farm out to the lowest bidder," she said.
The company is scheduled to take over Oct. 4 and the Gainesville station would close April 1.
With such uncertainty, Dupre said at least eight workers in Gainesville are transferring to other stations that Lockheed plans to keep open. The jobs pay $75,000 per year on average, he said.
Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gvillesun.com. One specialist, Angela O'Neil, said she's transfering to a station in Nashville. She said workers have no idea what to expect from Congress.
"You just get numb to it after a while," she said.
Dupre said he's planning to transfer to a station in Macon, Ga. Those who stay in Gainesville will likely face long hours, he said, which could have unforeseen consequences.
"It's just not the kind of job where you can work people for (long) periods of time without paying the price for it," he said.

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