NWS Feels the Effects of a Vacancy Rate that Exceeds Eight Percent
(March 21, 2013) Lead forecasters are filling in as ASAs. Offices are scrambling to schedule employees who are certified for upper air launches due to vacant intern/HMT positions. Critical drought conditions are covered on an ad hoc basis, services are degraded, and there are potential safety impacts to general aviation. National Weather Service vacancies bring the term “multi-tasking” to new levels in an ominous way and fatigue the employees we depend on to stay alert.
The bargaining unit reports from January shows there are 193 more vacancies in NWS bargaining unit positions than there were in 2010.
The latest data from March shows nine additional vacancies for a total of 202 more vacancies from the already short (fair weather) staffed NWS in 2010. This reflects a lapse labor rate that exceeds eight percent – up from 2.8 percent in 2010. This does not include vacancies (which are many) in management positions that are often used to fill in for the vacant operational employees.
Even on fair weather days, offices report overtime and temporary promotions to fill the gaps leaving forecasters fatigued from working off rotation shifts or shifts with a quick turnaround. In one office, it was called, “a scheduling nightmare in which no one works their regular schedule anymore.”
“In the past people were expected to change their shifts from midnight to day on a weekly basis. Now they’re being asked to work night shift, switch to a day shift, and then switch back to a night shift in the same week. It’s taking an unhealthy toll. They’re going to put their employees in a hospital if it continues,” Sobien stated.
Leave, training, equipment maintenance, and outreach have become casualties of the staffing shortage adding undue burden to the dedicated employees who work to maintain the agency’s mission of saving lives and property. Morale is reported to have dipped “off the chart” to a new low across the agency.
The most frequent issues reported to NWSEO from WFOs around the country with a range of one to five vacant positions include:
During the past week, NWSEO has filed grievances over vacant positions for lead meteorologists, journeyman forecasters, HMTs and interns, and ITOs. The union has also filed a grievance over the agency’s unilateral change in the practice of paying relocation expenses for Interns and HMTs.
“The number of vacancies has more than doubled since 2010. The National Weather Service has to do better. People’s lives depend on it,” said Sobien.
NWSEO Vacancy Grievances