bear.jpgFeb. 4, 2009: An Eyewitness News investigation reveals that air traffic control towers in New York and New Jersey may be dangerously understaffed.

March 21, 2007: Air-traffic control towers at small and medium airports have been routinely understaffed with only one person on a shift, a violation of federal aviation rules, a government investigator said Tuesday.

Sept. 23, 2006: The recent tragic event crash of a commuter jet in Kentucky shined an uncomfortable spotlight on the U.S. air traffic control system… Controllers in Houston and across the country are now facing unprecedented staffing and scheduling pressures. We have a depleted work force watching record air traffic at grueling intervals in our city, and one terrible incident was all it took for us to look each other in the eyes and say, “We need answers about staffing and scheduling before safety suffers in Houston.”

If you’re scratching your head over all the latest reports about air traffic controllers nodding off at work, you shouldn’t be. All you have to do is read the endless stories like the ones above that are easy to find. Understaffing and long hours have plagued the industry for a while now and have only gotten worse during the Great Recession.

Many control towers across the country have been hurting for workers, and guess what the Federal Aviation Administration finally did yesterday, other than kick out the FAA chief? The agency finally announced it will be adding staff to 27 towers nationally. Helloooooooo. What took so long?

The understaffing at government agencies and throughout Corporate America has led to a lot of overworked, yet still, productive U.S. workers, and they’re tired. And air traffic controllers aren’t the only one snoozing.

Turns out 1 in 4 office workers admitted to taking a nap at work. That from a recent study on sleep from the National Sleep Foundation and Philips Electronics.

Here are some more of their findings:

* 85 percent of office workers admit that if they slept more, they would be more productive while on the job
* More than half (56%) of office workers don’t consistently get a good night’s sleep
* Two-thirds (64%) of office workers surveyed believe that lack of sleep means their day begins on a low note
* Two-thirds (64%) of employees do not wake up before their alarm goes off and more than one-third (37%) are not ready to get up when their alarm goes off

They can’t get up because they’re over tired. Why? Because many are working too damn hard.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “U.S. productivity growth doubled from 2008 to 2009, then doubled again in 2010.”

This is an unusual economic phenomenon, according to an Associated Press analysis:

In the past, when the U.S. economy fell into recession, companies typically cut jobs but often kept more than they needed. Some might have felt protective of their staffs. Or they didn’t want to risk losing skilled employees they’d need once business rebounded.

Among manufacturers, for example, some tended to hoard workers during downturns by giving them make-work assignments — sweeping factory floors, counting inventory, painting warehouses.

The result is that productivity — output per workers — has typically decelerated or even dropped as the economy has weakened.

But noooo, not this time. Employers went on a worker-chopping spree and have been reluctant to hire even when employees start bringing their teddy bears and fuzzy slippers to work.

The ramifications of this new kind of workplace structure goes beyond just snoring working stiffs. It’s bad news for the middle class in this country.

Globalization and the technology revolution are increasing productivity and prosperity. But those rewards are unevenly shared — they are going to the people at the top in the United States, and enriching emerging economies over all. But the American middle class is losing out, according to a New York Times story published yesterday.

Do you feel you’re losing out? And could you go for a cat nap right now? I could.

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