Canadian air traffic controllers are showing support for their American counterparts this week by sending hundreds of pizzas as part of an industry-wide effort to support federal employees who are working without a paycheque due to a prolonged partial shutdown of the U.S. government.
Air traffic controllers, who help aircraft filled with hundreds of people navigate the skies, have a stressful and often thankless job.
But many in the U.S. are showing up without pay, as roughly 10,000 air traffic controllers are part of the 24,000 employees within the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration whose jobs are considered essential.
That means they are required to come into work — with no idea when their next paycheque will have something other than $0 on it.
That’s why Canadian controllers, many of whom work closely with their American counterparts as they manage North American air space, decided to provide U.S. workers with the comfort of food.
“Out of the blue, on Thursday evening, some air traffic controllers in the Edmonton area control centre sent some pizzas to the controllers in Anchorage,” said Peter Duffey, president of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association.
WATCH: Stories from U.S. workers impacted by the partial government shutdown
What started as a small effort quickly snowballed into an extra-large campaign.
Air traffic controllers in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and Moncton along with many other Canadian cities, purchased pizza for their American counterparts in places like Seattle, Anchorage, Alaska, Utah, New York, and Minneapolis.
Tony Walsh, an air traffic controller at the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center, said the arrival of 16 extra-large pizzas came at a good time for the 85 people working the night shift on Friday.
“Many of us had just gotten our first paycheques saying we wouldn’t be getting paid,” he said in a phone interview on Sunday.
“That little gesture meant so much… we can really continue and push through what we’re going through.”
Duffey estimates that as of Sunday afternoon, some 300 pizzas had been received by American controllers.
“Right now, we’ve sent pizzas to 40 U.S. facilities and that number continues to climb by the hours,” he said.
The contributions of individual workers, many of whom Duffey says have been looking for a way to show solidarity with their American colleagues, have been covering the costs of the pizza.
WATCH: ‘We welcome talking’: Schumer says Trump won’t negotiate as shutdown continues
He told The Canadian Press that one anonymous Canadian donor contributed $500 to the pizza fund, while another single-handedly bought lunch for two facilities in Phoenix, Ariz., to thank them for “taking care of all the snowbirds from Western Canada who go down for the winter.”
David Lombardo, a former air traffic controller who lives in Long Island, was one of the first people to publicly draw attention to the efforts of the kind-hearted Canadians.
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He posted on Reddit an image of a sign that had been hung at the New York Air Traffic Control Center in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., that said 32 pizzas had been ordered by Canadians.
Lombardo, who used to work at New York Center, said it’s frustrating for many of the workers who aren’t getting paid.
“These are hard-working professionals, with detail-oriented and safety-critical positions on the planet, and they’re not getting paid,” he said.
The union representing American air traffic controllers have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington on Friday, asking for an order compelling the government to pay them what they’re owed.
WATCH: U.S. government workers miss first paycheque amid shutdown
As the union fights the Trump administration, Lombardo says controllers are grateful to their Canadian colleagues.
“I personally have gotten messages from people who are working and living in the U.S. who are asking me ‘where can I get a loan, what sort of financial advice can you give me, I have a baby on the way, I have a mortgage that’s due tomorrow, I don’t have money in my chequing account, what should I do?'”Follow @alexanderquon
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