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FAA Set to Fire Oakland Center Air Traffic Control Trainee Whose National Guard Duty Was Extended, Cites Understaffing - (1/22/2008)

CONTACT:     Scott Conde, NATCA Oakland Center, 510-673-0237
FREMONT, Calif. – The Federal Aviation Administration is set to fire an employee who was training to become an air traffic controller at Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center. His crime? He obeyed military orders to extend his duty in the California National Guard, which made him unable to obey Federal Aviation Administration orders to return to Oakland Center due to what the FAA manager at the facility wrote was “facility staffing requirements.”
The trainee, Robert Vance, has 33 years of government service. He was fired after the PATCO controllers’ strike of 1981, continued his military career and then was rehired by the FAA a decade ago. He was assigned to Oakland Center in 1999. For most of the period since then he has been on military deployment, first on active military and then, upon retiring from the military in 2006, he entered the California National Guard.
Vance’s Leave Without Pay (LWOP) status was to run through June 2007. But then he received new orders from the California National Guard, extending his duty indefinitely. In July 2007, Vance filed the necessary paperwork with the FAA to reflect his new orders and requesting further LWOP status. But Vance then received a letter from Oakland Center FAA management that simply contained a copy of his leave request with the remarks indicating “denied” and "Unable to support due to facility staffing.”
One month later, Vance received another letter from Oakland Center FAA management, advising him that the facility now considered him Absent Without Leave and ordering him to return to work. They again stated the position that his military leave cannot be supported "due to staffing.” This letter threatened disciplinary action if he did not leave the military and report for duty, despite the fact that he was in an approved military leave status from the FAA Regional Office.
Despite repeated and numerous attempts to resolve the issue through FAA regional officials in California, Vance’s current status has not changed; the FAA has issued a Notice of Proposed Removal, action “to be executed no earlier than 30 days from December 22, 2007.” This means he could now be fired at any time.
“For an employer to ‘disapprove’ military leave simply on the basis of its ‘inability to support due to staffing requirements’ is an illegal action,” said NATCA Oakland Center Facility Representative Scott Conde. “If this were allowable, there would be no deployed military personnel currently serving in the Armed Forces. There is no employer in the country that would not rather have its employees at work instead of deployed in defense of their country. This simple fact is the reason that the laws exist to protect the rights of our servicemen and servicewomen.”

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