Rep. Bill Ford (D-Mich.) yesterday introduced legislation to give a 10 percent bonus to 24,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers and open the door for FAA to rehire some of the 11,400 air traffic controllers fired last summer for striking.
Ford expects fast action from the Post Office-Civil Service Committee (he is chairman) on his bill. It is much different, and cheaper, than the controller pay plan favored by President Reagan.
Ford's bill would grant the one-time bonus this January to controllers, supervisory personnel and others involved in air safety if the secretary of transportation "certified" to Congress that the nation's air traffic system was functioning at prestrike levels.
The Reagan administration has made it plain that it does not want to rehire strikers. It is anxious to reward personnel who did not strike, and has proposed a nearly 7 percent raise (retroactive to August) for controllers and air safety support personnel.
FAA officials say their polls show that the majority of working controllers do not want strikers rehired.
Many of the Democrats who control the PO-CS Committee do not want to "reward" nonstrikers with a permanent pay raise. They also feel it is too expensive.
They believe the one-shot bonus would be cheaper and--since it couldn't be paid until FAA certified it was operating at prestrike efficiency--would increase the chances that FAA would try to rehire some of the fired workers.
Ford's bill provides that fired controllers "shall not as a class be deemed unsuitable for employment in any position in the FAA." Strikers who wanted to apply for their old jobs would, under the Ford bill, be judged on a case-by-case basis by the Office of Personnel Management.
Air traffic controllers are among the best-paid government workers. They average over $32,000 a year, compared with the average white-collar civil servant here who gets $26,000. Many controllers got their initial training in the military.
Although controlling is skilled specialized work, there isn't much demand for air traffic controllers in private industry. That is why so many of the strikers had to take pay cuts when they landed other jobs, and would like to return to work.
The administration has taken a hard line on rehiring, but many officials wish there was a way FAA could selectively rehire top people. Ford's bill, if it flies, might be the way. But a lot depends on how the White House and working controllers and other FAA personnel feel about it.