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Air traffic controllers threaten mass retirement

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Lambert Airport control tower (KWMU photo)

By Tom Weber, KWMU

St. Louis, MO. – Some air traffic controllers in St. Louis say they'll have no choice but to retire if a new contract with the government takes effect.

And they say that will mean a shortage of controllers at Lambert Airport.

Negotiations between the FAA and the controllers' union recently broke off, which means the last best offer is poised to take effect automatically.

Local union president Brad Rosenthal says he hopes that doesn't happen for the sake of the next controllers. "A lot of the controllers that I know of that are eligible for retirement would have worked for another four, five years," Rosenthal said Monday. "But they have now made that impossible for us. Financially, we can't stay those extra four and five years to train that new workforce."

There will be a huge spike in retirements in coming years, but the FAA says that's because all those replacements that were hired after President Reagan fired striking controllers in 1981 are nearing the mandatory retirement age, not because of any labor dispute.

"To try and tie natural retirements based on age and time and service to our current labor impasse, it's unfair to make that comparison because the two are in no way correlated," Basye said.

The union says 10 of Lambert's 36 controllers could retire by next year, and it takes three to five years to train a replacement.

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