The ATC Union negotiated for 4-day workweeks, which means the ATC’s work FOUR – 10 HOUR DAYS/NIGHTS. Because you cannot divide a 24-hour day into three 10-hour parts, shifts (a/k/a/ SWING shifts) do NOT start at the same time each day. A single controller who works on Monday from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. would start his next shift 20 hours later. He would report for work on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. and work until midnight. His third rotation would begin at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday night and run until 6:00 a.m. on Thursday. How on the hell would you EVER get on any sort of routine sleep schedule? They are not burning the candle at both ends – their bodies are NOT designed to work like that, unless you are a soldier in a foxhole, and they sleep when they can (much like the ATC). But the union got ‘em a three (almost) day weekend. Whoopee.
ATC SHIFT WORK: Shift work consists of Day shifts (that vary between 6am and 5pm), Night shifts (that vary between 12pm and 11pm), and Midnight shifts (that vary between 10pm and 8am). Each shift lasts a minimum of 8 hours and cannot last longer than 10 hours. The most common shift work schedule consists of working two night shifts, two day shifts, and one midnight shift each week. The shift variations at Terminal facilities are many. Breaks during shift vary between 15 minutes and 45 minutes. Lunch breaks are the longest and everyone gets just one. You will not be allowed to leave the facility for lunch without taking annual leave. Some facilities have cafeterias and most do not. Controllers take turns going on break. Supervisors set the length of breaks based on staffing for that day. The more people there are to work the longer the break and the more frequent they become. The fewer there are to work the shorter the break and the less frequent they become. The FAA has required that supervisors avoid allowing controllers to work more than two consistent hours on a position without a break. Sometimes it is possible to relieve a controller before they work two consistent hours and sometimes it is not.
I would think that, in a job this stressful, regular hours - repeating shifts - would be far better for the body. I'm actually amazed that these people can sit for hours in a darkened room and stare at a monitor with moving dots, and not fall asleep more often. I don't think the ATC union did them, or the American flying public, any favors.