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Disruptions Loom as 17 Air Traffic Controllers Balk at Job Relocation

By late July, 17 air traffic controllers will be expected to trade in their headsets, walk out of their aging workplace on Long Island and report to a new office in Philadelphia, part of a plan to address a long-running problem with recruiting enough controllers to manage the skies around New York.

Despite the hefty incentives they have been offered to go along, the workers — unwilling to uproot themselves and their families — are balking at the move, and some powerful members of Congress are helping them fight back.

In a blistering letter sent to the Federal Aviation Administration last week, a group of New York lawmakers, including Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat and the majority leader, demanded that the agency abandon plans to force the employees’ relocation this summer.

The move places undue hardship on those workers, legislators argued. The “forced reassignments” by the F.A.A., Mr. Schumer and his colleagues wrote, are “both confusing and outrageous.” The controllers say their family lives would be disrupted, citing new marriages, disabled children and elderly parents they care for.

The fact that the Senate’s most powerful legislator would complain so loudly about a tiny group of workers underscores the power of the controllers’ nerve center in Westbury, N.Y. — an intense workplace whose formidable responsibilities, high-stress environment and strong personalities inspired a magazine story and the 1999 movie “Pushing Tin.”

The anger of the controllers and their supporters is clashing with the desperate effort by the F.A.A. to find and train enough employees willing to tackle the demands of ensuring the smooth and safe flow of aircraft in and out of the New York airspace — its most complex, by all accounts.

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