Edmontonian Michael Cormier was on the phone with a pizza joint in Anchorage, Alaska, last Thursday, valiantly trying to fend off a recommendation to order a Reindeer Pizza.
The air traffic controller was placing an order for pies to be sent to colleagues working at Anchorage’s Ted Stevens international airport, a cheesy show of support for the American air traffic controllers are contending with a government partial shutdown.
But that act of comfort food solidarity has since snowballed across the country, with operators across the country delivering slices across the border as a show of support for their American colleagues.
“I knew there was a shutdown and I heard they weren’t getting paid,” Cormier said in an interview Monday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. “I didn’t believe it.
“And I thought well, it would be nice if I could just do something to show them that not everybody has forgotten that they’re out there working when other people aren’t, so I arranged them some pizza.”
It took a while for Cormier, an air traffic controller with Nav Canada in Edmonton, to find a place that would accept a Canadian credit card and get the idea cleared with airport security, but soon his colleagues were chowing down on some fresh pies.
“I’m sort of a pepperoni guy but he picked Hawaiian, meat lovers and some sort of barbecue chicken,” Cormier said CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.
“We actually had to talk them out of ordering a reindeer pizza. It sounded a little bit too exotic to me.”
With few other U.S. government services running due to the shutdown, some 10,000 American air traffic controllers have been working without pay since late December.
Their union filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington on Friday, asking for an order compelling the government to pay them what they’re owed.
In addition to Anchorage, Cormier collected enough to buy pies for controllers in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Then, as they say in airport lingo, it took off from there.
The next thing we knew, our members were buying pizzas left, right and centre.
Peter Duffey, the head of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association, said other facilities across Canada decided to join in.
“The next thing we knew, our members were buying pizzas left, right and centre for the colleagues in the U.S,” Duffey said Sunday in a phone interview.
“As it stands right now, I believe we’re up to 36 facilities that have received pizza from Canada, and that number is growing by the hour.”
Duffey estimated that as of Sunday afternoon, some 300 pizzas had been received by American controllers, many of whom took to social media to express their gratitude.
Duffey said many union members had been looking for a way to show solidarity with their American colleagues, who have been working without pay due to the partial shutdown.
“Air traffic control is a very stressful job,” he said.
“They say you have to be 100 per cent right, 100 per cent of the time. People just don’t need to be reporting to work with the added stress of worrying about how to pay their mortgages and grocery bills on top of it.”
Cormier said there’s a bond between Canadian and American air traffic controllers since the two work closely together to manage cross-border airspace.
Air traffic controllers provide essential services and are unable to suspend work or take any other job action during the government shutdown, he said. He wanted them to be recognized for working hard without a paycheque.
“Not a lot of people were aware they were working and it’s not the kind of job where they could slack off,” Cormier said.
“They were doing the job the same as they did every day of the year, 24 hours a day and somebody should actually notice what they were doing.
“That was the whole idea. If you worked with someone and you knew they weren’t getting paid, wouldn’t you buy them lunch?”
With files from the Canadian Press