Eight furloughed Federal Aviation Administration engineers who confronted lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week heard by text message that congressional leaders reached a deal on stopgap funding. They had just left a lawmaker’s office, about the 13th meeting in two days.
The partial shutdown of the aviation agency left 4,000 engineers without almost two weeks’ pay, and left the 70,000 construction workers the engineers oversee without work.
We spoke to two furloughed engineers and a safety inspector late Thursday to get their reaction to the news.
■Bill Mitchell, 68, a lead airport certification safety inspector for the FAA based in Fort Worth, Texas, was reviewing assignments for the coming week with his five-member team when news of the agreement arrived. Airport safety inspectors had continued working without pay during the furlough at the request of the FAA because of the critical nature of their assignment.
“It's not just a job, but something we feel is a vital part of aviation safety,” said Mitchell, who has worked for the FAA since 1989. The inspectors were willing to pay their own travel costs in the hopes of later reimbursement by the government, he said.
The five inspectors were all that remained out of three dozen FAA workers usually at the Fort Worth office. “We're very relieved it's resolved,” Mitchell said. “We're looking forward to everyone getting back to work and enhancing the mission of aviation safety.”
■ Dan Stefko, a project engineer who flew in from Pittsburgh for the meetings on Capitol Hill, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the deal. But he was realistic.
“This is only an extension,” Stefko said as he got out of a taxi in front of the union headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue NW. “Congress has resolved its differences until Sept. 16. Until we have a long-term FAA funding bill in place, we won’t be able to relax.”
In the past 10 days, Stefko found himself in places he would never expect to be: Walking the halls of Congress and speaking out on CNN, MSNBC, NBC and several other television networks.
He planned to drive home early Friday to get ready to go back to work on Monday.
■ Mike MacDonald, regional vice president of the FAA union representing the furloughed workers, got very little sleep this week. When he heard news of the deal Thursday afternoon, “All of the emotion, all of the energy we’ve put into fighting this.... an enormous weight was lifted,” he said.
It was not clear Thursday whether the furloughed workers would be reimbursed for the week of pay they lost. MacDonald said he was not focused on it right now. “We’re just really glad we’re getting back to work.”
He, too, became a media fixture in a few days as he took every opportunity to get the furloughed workers’ stories to the public.
“Everywhere you looked, we were talking about 74,000 jobs at least that were on the line,” MacDonald said. “I think getting the message out there helped. It really was hurting jobs and real people. We were just kind of caught in the crossfire.”