North

Northern air traffic controllers join cross-border pizza party

Workers with the air traffic control towers in Yellowknife and Whitehorse treated controllers in Juneau and Fairbanks, Alaska, to some Italian fare.

Whitehorse, Yellowknife control towers sent pizzas to employees working without pay in Alaska

Workers with the air traffic control tower in Yellowknife sent pizzas to their colleagues in Juneau, Alaska, who are currently working without pay during the U.S. government shutdown. (CBC)

Air traffic controllers in Yellowknife and Whitehorse have joined their colleagues across Canada in sending pizzas to their counterparts over the border.

Workers with the air traffic control towers in Whitehorse and Yellowknife treated controllers in Fairbanks and Juneau, Alaska, respectively, to some Italian fare a sign of solidarity.

The United States federal employees are currently working without pay during the government shutdown, which is now the longest in U.S. history.

Air traffic controllers in Yellowknife sent pizzas to their colleagues in Juneau, Alaska, as the U.S. employees are working without pay during the government shutdown. Mark Hilman, an air traffic controller and union representative in Yellowknife, and Rob Swinton, the union representative for the tower in Juneau, share the story of that cheesey gesture. 4:27

"We just wanted to do our part for another Northern community." said Ryan Mannen, unit operations specialist for air traffic control at Erik Nielsen Whitehore International Airport. "It's the least we could do." 

He said they ordered a dozen pizzas from a restaurant right across the street from the Fairbanks tower and left it up to the workers to decide what toppings they wanted — but the classic Canadian pizza and the controversial pineapple topping weren't on the menu.

"I found that to be kind of weird but ... they are a highly-rated pizza place so we were very happy to do that."

Mark Hilman has worked as an air traffic controller for two decades with Nav Canada in Yellowknife and is also the chairman of the local union branch. (Submitted by Mark Hilman)

Mark Hilman has worked as an air traffic controller for two decades with Nav Canada in Yellowknife and is also the chairman of the local union branch.

"We caught wind that there were a bunch of towers and area control centres across the country that were involved in doing this so we decided we wanted to join in," he said. They chose Juneau because it's a Northern tower similar in size to Yellowknife's tower.

"We hope that our little gesture kind of helped raise some spirits out there. That's kind of the whole point of it was to try and show that we're supporting them any way we can," said Hamill.

The pizzas came at the perfect time, according to Rob Swinton, union representative for the Juneau tower, as morale was getting low. 

"Everybody got to actually log on to the website and see that their paycheck was in fact zero dollars and zero cents and it was a big kick to morale right there," he said. "Then this phone call comes and it kind of raised people's spirits and let them know that people are thinking about them."

Swinton said Hilman co-ordinated with a pizza place located near the airport in Juneau. There was enough food for all the employees, including those with the local flight service station.

To Hilman, the cheesy offering is a sign of the fellowship that exists in the international air traffic control community.

Left to right, Devin Styers, Lenny Zeifman, Dan Parks, Rob Swinton, Steve Ott and Bryan Barrett. Air traffic controllers in Juneau, Alaska, are among the federal employees working without pay during the government shutdown. (Submitted by Rob Swinton)

"There's a fairly high amount of camaraderie I would say," said Hilman, adding he's involved in annual air traffic controller hockey tournaments that are attended by Americans and Canadians alike.

"We definitely feel kindred spirits kind of with the guys in the states. I mean air traffic controllers worldwide, I would say that we feel a kinship to."

Swinton said the National Air Traffic Controllers Association also puts on a large safety event every year in Las Vegas that's attended by people from all over the world.

"It's a big community that doesn't really know borders or anything."

With files from Mike Rudyk

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