Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

It's like your favorite restaurant opening again after the owners' summer vacation.

It's like your liquor store opening again after, strangely, being closed on Christmas Day.

Oh, perhaps not quite.

The end of the partial government shutdown has probably inspired more relief than excitement. Yet, after being the longest shutdown ever, the end happened so quickly.

Some political types will mutter that the president's dipping popularity ratings precipitated the sudden (temporary) agreement.

Perhaps, though, the real accelerator was a simple memo--and its interpretation.

The airline industry was one of the most prominent in warning about the potential effects of the shutdown on safety and security.

The union representing pilots at Delta, United, and many other airlines was among the most vocal in directing its blame at the president for what it perceived as a dire and unnecessary situation.

Airline CEOs expressed their desperation for the impasse to end.

And then there were the air traffic controllers.

First, they sued the president. It's not easy doing vital work when you're not being paid. 

Thursday, however, saw an interpretation of a memo written by the Office of Personnel Management waft its way beneath the eyes of the nation's air traffic controllers.

The interpretation was reportedly written by someone at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Obtained by The Air Current's Jon Ostrower, this was a reading of Senate Bill 24, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act 2019, signed by the president on January 16.

In essence, the interpretation seemed to allow for air traffic controllers to take sick leave without incurring any penalties against their overall allotment of leave.

Why, you might wonder, is this important? 

You see, the law doesn't allow air traffic controllers to organize a labor action. 

On Friday morning, however, quite a few air traffic controllers took sick leave, leading to severe disruption of flights at Newark, La Guardia, and other airports.

The suggestion, therefore, is that people for whom the shutdown had become a severe emotional strain felt sure they now wouldn't lose anything by taking sick leave.

Ostrower quoted one air traffic controller as saying: 

It is cold and flu season and our contractual protections regarding sick leave still apply, so I personally wouldn't be surprised if people's self-assessment regarding their fitness for duty becomes much more stringent.

Highly considered words, you might think.

For its part, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association issued a riposte to the mere notion that something was up here. The riposte was, well, nuanced.

The NATCA's president, Pail Rinaldi, said:

NATCA does not condone or endorse any federal employees participating in or
endorsing a coordinated activity that negatively affects the capacity of the National Airspace System or other activities that undermine the professional image and reputation of the men and women we represent.

Which, of course, you might expect him to say. 

He added, however: 

With that said, in the past few weeks, we have warned about what could happen as a result of the prolonged shutdown. Many controllers have reached the breaking point of exhaustion, stress, and worry caused by this shutdown. Each hour that goes by that the shutdown continues makes the situation worse. Air traffic controllers are required to report fit for duty every shift. It is a very high threshold of fitness demanded by the seriousness of the job. This shutdown has caused a tremendous amount of added stress for them on top of what is already a difficult and stressful job.

When the announcement of an end to the shutdown came on Friday, Rinaldi offered these words of joy

After 35 days of this senseless government shutdown, we are grateful and relieved that the President and Congress reached an agreement to temporarily end the shutdown.

He also praised the "tireless activism" of his association's members. 

In the roaming forum of Twitter, some insisted that the delays were no different than those caused by summer thunderstorms.

Others, though, believed they saw darker evidence. 

It does seem that the increased disruption happened to occur at a fine political moment. How moving if it was all incited by a mere workplace memo.

The entirely caustic might even suggest the disruption began to affect highfalutin' businesspeople and politicians who regularly fly back and forth between New York and other East Coast cities.

Still, as many businesses try to discover how quickly everything will be running again so that they can complete contracts and regain lost revenue, one question will continue to hover.

What if this happens all over again in three weeks' time?

Published on: Jan 27, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.