Air traffic controllers in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, joined in a widespread, pizza-based act of goodwill last week.
Air traffic controllers from the northern Canadian city bought their counterparts in Juneau some Domino’s last week as the federal employees’ unpaid payday came and went on Wednesday.
Canadian air traffic controller Mark Hilman heard about some of his colleagues in Edmonton sending pizzas to their Anchorage counterparts. He works at the Yellowknife Airport.
“One of the fellas here suggested Juneau to do something just to show solidarity, right? I mean it’s … I can’t imagine having to go to work and not getting paid,” Hilman said. “We kinda just wanted another northern tower that was maybe similar in size to ours. … Yellowknife is the capital of the Northwest Territories and Juneau obviously the capital of Alaska, so we figured we’d sorta fit in there.”
Hilman called up his counterpart in Juneau last week.
“Honestly, it was a little out of the blue,” said Juneau air traffic controller Rob Swinton.
He represents 13 air traffic controllers for his union who work in that tower. He and Hilman were strangers.
“But I’m definitely interested in going to visit now. You know, once this government gets opened back up,” he said.
Swinton said it was good timing. Last Friday was when he and his coworkers could go online to see what their upcoming paychecks would be.
“We were anticipating it, but it makes it a little more real when you log in and you see zero dollars and zero cents, when you know you’ve worked 80 hours or more in the last pay period,” Swinton said. “So morale took a big dive on Friday. And then, yeah, we got that call. … It helped for sure to know there are people out there that are, you know, supporting us.”
They had their pizza lunch, paid for by Hilman’s Canadian air traffic controllers’ union, in the tower. There are no pizza pictures — Swinton said they have to jump through a lot of hoops to get permission to shoot photos up there for security reasons and to minimize distractions. With the shutdown, Swinton said they’ve got other stuff to worry about.
“You got this very real distraction right now of controllers not knowing when they’re gonna get their next paycheck, how their mortgage (is) gonna get paid,” he said. “I mean, you know how cold it’s been. These heating bills are gonna rack up. This is all something that’s on everybody’s mind everyday while they’re up there.”
He’s quick to add they’re still being professional and keeping the airport running safely.
One of his new coworkers was just starting his new job as the shutdown began. Swinton was reluctant to identify him because he doesn’t have union protections yet. He said he ought to be in training, but he can’t because of the shutdown. He just signed a lease and is living off savings.