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Salt Lake Air Traffic Controllers Working Without Pay Through Shutdown

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Around 10,000 air traffic controllers nationwide who work for the Federal Aviation Administration are working through the government shutdown because they are deemed essential.

Nearly 40 of those workers help keep air traffic safe in the skies above Salt Lake International Airport.

A union representative said they’re starting to feel the financial stress of working without pay – and if the shutdown lasts, they’ll all face very difficult decisions.

“We’re not political pawns,” said Adam Humpal.

He has worked as an air traffic controller for 16 years, the last 3 years in the tower in Salt Lake City. He’s also the local representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

“We need our paychecks so we can go out about our lives,” he said.

They’re not just numbers, he said. They’re workers with families and financial obligations.

“It’s people like me who live here in Salt Lake,” said Humpal.

Several of his co-workers have newborns at home. His own son turned four Wednesday.

They’ve all been trying to figure out how to pay their mortgages and other bills.

“I don’t have income,” he said. “That’s the stress that were under, and that’s the part that we shouldn’t even have to be thinking about.”

Despite that stress, he said, air traffic safety was not compromised.

“It could be distracting at times,” he said of the government shutdown. “But, we’re all professionals and we do our job really well and things are very safe.”

Air traffic safety was the number one priority, he said.

“We take pride in it. There’s a lot of pride up there in that tower. It hurts when we have to start having talks about what we’re going to buy next week.”

The air traffic controllers expect to be paid for this time once the shutdown is over. In the meantime, Humpal was talking with his bank about how he’s going to pay bills in the weeks ahead.

“We do have some paycheck-to-paycheck folks,” he said, describing their workforce. “But, we’re just depleting savings right now.”

If the shutdown goes on several more weeks, or even months it could become a bigger problem.

“At that point, it becomes more critical and we’ll have to find have to find ways (of paying bills),” Humpal said.

He couldn’t imagine getting a loan to pay bills while he’s still reporting to work.

“At some point, food comes before a payment on the house,” he said.

Many other federal employees in Utah have faced similar concerns.

The 4,000 IRS workers furloughed in Ogden planned a rally Thursday at noon in front of the federal building in Ogden.

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