This Court Case Won’t Fly

Supervisors at an FAA facility filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the agency’s agreement with the union and asked for back pay as a remedy

Supervisors at the Albuquerque Air Traffic Control Center thought they should get more money.

Their rationale was that the Federal Aviation Administration should have designated the airport there at a classification reflecting increased air traffic. More air traffic usually means a higher salary for employees who work there.

The supervisors claimed that the labor contract between the FAA and the controllers’ union required the agency to reclassify the facility. Since it was not done, the supervisors did not get higher pay.

The problem is that supervisors are not part of a collective bargaining agreement with the union. If the union or an employee in the bargaining unit wanted to allege that the contract was not being followed, they could have filed a grievance. In fact, they would have had to have filed a grievance as the exclusive avenue of appeal open to them.

Since the supervisors are not in the unit, they could not file a grievance. So, to get the higher pay, the supervisors filed a lawsuit which went to the Court of Claims and then to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. They asked for back pay going back to June 1999.

The Federal Circuit said, in effect, “nice try but forget about it.” Since the supervisors are not in the bargaining unit, the contract doesn’t apply to them and going to court to obtain the contractual benefits (and not the contractual obligations) didn’t fly. Todd et. al. v. United States, Case No. 03-5120, October 5, 2004.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47