Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Voices of the shutdown: "It's a job you can't slack off of"

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world's busiest airport, with more than 95 million passengers passing through it in 2012, according to the Airports Council International's 2012 World Annual Traffic Report. 

Douglas Lowe, 32, is an Airways Transportation Systems Specialist for the Federal Aviation Association (FAA), at Hartsfield-Jackson, a job that is considered essential to public aviation safety. 

"In a nutshell, everything that an air traffic controller uses to keep aircrafts in the sky, I work on and maintain," said Lowe. 

Lowe works specifically on the rapid deployment voice switch - connecting air traffic controllers to the channels they use to speak to pilots. 

"They're [air traffic controllers] talking to airplanes that are coming in on final approaches and taking off and turning out," he said. 

However, since Oct. 1, Lowe has been working without pay because of the government shutdown. He's one of 40 on his team not being paid, working 10-hour shifts on a seven-day rotation. 

"We work days, nights, weekends, holidays," said Lowe. "It's a job you can't slack off of." 

Lowe's next pay check is scheduled on Oct. 29. Like thousands of government workers across the country, he's hoping the shutdown ends before then. 

"If this continues on, the next pay day I will get absolutely zero on my paycheck," said Lowe. 

The shutdown has been stressful for him and his family. 

"I actually tapped into my savings plan and took out a loan to make sure I don't default on anything. I have a mortgage, and then I have a second mortgage for my mom. I take care of her because she is mentally ill so I have two mortgages to worry about, car payments, a kid," said Lowe. 

"I'm the only one that works in the house; my wife goes to school full-time. It's very stressful to say the least," he added. 

Lowe, a former Marine, joined the FAA in 2007. 

He is also the Georgia chapter president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) union, which represents 11,000 nationwide employees. He and some of his members have organized a small protest Tuesday to hand out flyers at the airport. 

"[We're] letting the public know they're getting on that flight right now because we're at work," said Lowe. 

Lowe says the government is holding people's lives in their hands over something that has nothing to do with making the government function. 

"Congress has a very important role of funding the government and deciding what should be funded and what shouldn't be funded instead of sitting there bickering over a health care law that was passed into law," said Lowe. 

"Not funding an entire government, putting people on a straight furlough, and making people work for free is ridiculous to me." 

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