National Air Traffic Controllers Association

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NATCA logo.png
Full name National Air Traffic Controllers Association
Founded 1987
Members 15,000
Affiliation AFL-CIO, IFATCA
Key people Paul Rinaldi, President and Patricia Gilbert, Executive VP
Office location Washington, D.C.
Country United States

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is a labor union in the United States. It is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and is the exclusive bargaining representative for air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It also represents a range of workers related to the air traffic control (ATC) industry, and the FAA itself.

NATCA was formed in 1987, following the decertification of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), the organization involved in the well known 1981 air traffic controllers' strike. NATCA promised to never condone an illegal strike but does actively pressure Congress and the FAA to hire more controllers and to accelerate the installation of advanced air traffic control systems.[1]

Internationally, the NATCA is affiliated with the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations (IFATCA).

NATCA was involved in contentious negotiations with the FAA in 2005-6 under the Bush administration. When the parties could not reach an agreement on a new contract, the FAA chose to follow the process enacted by Congress and unilaterally implemented new terms and conditions of employment.[2] NATCA filed Unfair Labor Practice charges asserting that the FAA negotiated in bad faith. The General Counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), a political appointee, used her prosecutorial discretion to dismiss all charges filed by NATCA. The United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, affirmed her discretion to dismiss the charges.[3]



In 2009, Paul Rinaldi was elected the sixth president of NATCA and began his three-year term. Before he became President, he was an air traffic controller for 18 years at Washington-Dulles Tower (IAD) and served three years as NATCA's executive vice president from 2006-2009. Rinaldi was re-elected to serve a second three-year term as President beginning September 2012. Rinaldi is the third two-term President of NATCA. In 2013, Rinaldi was elected as a Vice President of the AFL-CIO where he serves on its Executive Council.

Executive Vice President[edit]

In 2009 Trish Gilbert was elected Executive Vice President of NATCA. Before taking this position she spent 20 years as an air traffic controller at Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZHU). She led ZHU for three terms as its facility representative and chaired NATCA's Legislative Committee from 2005 to 2009. Gilbert was re-elected for a second three-year term beginning September 2012.

Regional Vice Presidents[edit]

There are ten Regional Vice Presidents (RVPs). Each of the FAA’s nine regions has a Regional Vice President, and the tenth belongs to Region X, which is the region assigned to other professionals that are not air traffic controllers. Engineers, legal professionals, and nurses are the types of workers in Region X. Each RVP is responsibility for certain tasks in their region, including: giving trainings on safety, activism, and labor relations; developing cooperative plans with the FAA regarding alcohol testing, post-incident debriefings; ensuring internal communication; and be the liaison for that regions members by answering questions and attending to daily concerns. The following is the list of the FAA regions and their respective RVP:

  • Alaskan Region – Scot Morrison
  • Central Region – Kevin Peterson
  • Eastern Region – Phil Barbarello
  • Great Lakes Region – Bryan Zilonis
  • New England Region – Mike Robicheau
  • Northwest Mountain Region – Jim Ullmann
  • Southern Region – Victor Santore
  • Southwest Region – Tim Smith
  • Western Pacific Region – Hamid Ghaffari
  • Region X – Mike MacDonald

National Office Staff[edit]

National Air Traffic Controllers Association headquarters in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

The National Office Staff is located at the NATCA National Office in Washington, D.C. The staff is divided into: Executive Office, Accounting, Communications, Government Affairs, Labor Relations, and Safety and Technology.

National committees[edit]

There are eight national committees, each with their own respective duties. The National Communications Committee is responsible for submitting policies regarding the facilitation of IT resources to the National Executive Board. The National Constitution Committee evaluates and takes a position on each proposal to change the NATCA Constitution prior to each convention. The National Election Committee, appointed by the President, sets up and runs the elections, national and regional, every three years. They also must investigate any protests or issues in these elections. The National Finance Committee reviews the salaries of national officers in the union and approves NATCA’s annual budget. They also are responsible for quarterly audits. The National Legislative Committee is the activism and lobbying committee of the union. They organize much of the grassroots efforts for the union, such as year-round lobbying, and establishing and training a network of activists in each region. The National Occupation Safety, Health and Environment Committee provides methods for workers to raise their concerns to the union officials without fear of penalization from either the FAA or other supervisors. The National Office of Worker Compensation Program Committee deals with all injuries on the job as well as training and prevention meetings to ensure safe practices of work. The National Safety Committee deals with safety issues that arise.


In 2004, NATCA established the Archie League Medal of Safety Awards, named after Archie William League, the first air traffic controller.[4]

Current issues[edit]

FAA Reauthorization Bill[edit]

On September 3, 2006, the FAA ceased negotiations with NATCA officials and unilaterally imposed terms and conditions of employment on Air Traffic Controllers nationwide. These new terms, which included 30% pay cuts for new controllers and the freezing of current air traffic controllers’ salaries, as well as a sharp change in the working conditions, have had a huge impact on the air traffic controllers. Union officials point to these changes to explain the drastic drop in the numbers of veteran air traffic controllers staying past their eligible retirement age, causing an insufficient staffing issue along with a very bottom-heavy, inexperienced demographic structure of the controllers. The originally introduced Reauthorization Bill would have forced the FAA back into negotiations with the NATCA and included a 15-month limit to the bargaining, followed by arbitration if no consensus is reached. The union hopes that these negotiations will help alleviate the staffing insufficiencies, the increasing amount of delays, and help modernize the air traffic control technology.[5]

By the time Reauthorization passed, after 23 short-term extensions, the Parties were already two years into a new three-year contract negotiated in 2009. The new law provides for mediation and binding interest arbitration in the event the parties do not reach agreement in future contract negotiations, ensuring that there are never unilaterally imposed terms and conditions of employment ever again.

Staffing Crisis[edit]

As of January 2008, the FAA documented about 11,000 air traffic controllers, which is the lowest number since the 1981 PATCO strike. The union’s position is that this staff shortage relates directly to the 2006 imposed FAA regulations. There are even low numbers at busy facilities, such as Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Dallas, and Southern California, which generally offer a larger salary for controllers, The Union feels that this is a very serious safety concern as it keeps facilities understaffed. However, in regards to the FAA’s position on the suggested safety issue, Hank Krakowski, then-FAA chief of operations, said “there is nothing that we’re seeing at this point in time that gives us any concern.”[6] The belief of the FAA is that the staff shortage affects flight delays more than anything else, and even this is not in significant proportions.

In order to maintain or increase the number of air traffic controllers, the FAA is hiring hundreds of trainees and offering cash bonuses to veteran controllers to entice them to stay beyond their retirement date, but numbers remain low. The Union believes that the decreasing proportion of veteran controllers to new controllers will result in the overworking of veteran leaders, incomplete training of many new controllers, and the increased likelihood of a catastrophic mistake.

Both the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the National Transportation Safety Board have released reports signaling to the FAA that there are problems with the low numbers of controllers, scheduling, and controller fatigue, which will affect the overall job performance of the controllers. The U.S. GAO report to congressional headquarters on Aviation and Runway Safety declared that it is not possible to make sufficient headway with the runway safety concerns “until the human factors issues involving fatigue are addressed”.[7] The Union believes that the fatigue is the result of the decreased number of air traffic controllers, caused by the FAA’s unilaterally enforced policies. They then defer this concern to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), saying, “Air controller fatigue…continues to be a matter of concern for the NTSB”.[7]

As it is a safety concern, the NTSB did release a safety recommendation to both the FAA and the NATCA. The issued recommendation analyzed four controller faulted runway “incursions” where, after investigation, the respective air traffic controller showed signs of fatigue. The report said, “Fatigue is known to degrade performance on cognitive tasks involving working memory and vigilance”, and that the mistakes made by the controllers in the investigated instances were consistent with signs of fatigue. The board attributed this fact to both the shift-work used at most facilities which often does not allow sufficient rest time between shifts, and to the increase amount of overtime worked due to the decrease in controllers.

In October, 1998, October, 1999, and October, 2000, the FAA distributed $200 million to Air Traffic Controllers at the time (approximately 19,200) over the 3-year period. When the Compensation Policy Manager was asked, "What happens after the distribution of the $200 million?", he replied, "Then it becomes the cost of doing business", so pay did not go back down after the distribution. The FAA conducted a four-year program to contract out control towers at small airports, where FAA controllers moved to higher-level FAA facilities and were replaced by contract controllers at over 100 small-airport control towers nationwide. The controllers who moved to the higher-level facilities in the first three years of the program moved as scheduled and received all correct pay raises in the 3-year distribution. The approximately 150 controllers in the fourth year of the program were SCHEDULED to move to the new facilities two months BEFORE the distribution began, and if so would have been given the same pay raises as other identical employees, however, were delayed in contracting out and moving to the new facilities by 14 months. There are two possibilities as to WHY they were delayed in contracting out, and attempts are being made to find out why. One statement by an FAA official in a letter to two Senator's offices indicates that the delay was due to a Cleveland Federal Judge's ruling that the FAA was illegally conducting the program without complying with an OMB (Office of Management and Budget at the White House) regulation to do an "A-76" cost analysis first, and ordered the cost analysis be done "prior to continuing with the program". However, from the time the Judge issued the order (March) until they were scheduled to move (August) was five months, and a cost analysis can be done within 60 days. From the time they were scheduled to move until the 3-year distribution began was two months, giving FAA management SEVEN MONTHS to do the cost analysis and STILL move them BEFORE the 3-year distribution began.

It is suspected that the real reason they were delayed in contracting out is because FAA management took the money that was slated to pay for their moves to the new locations and their scheduled 6.7% "promotion raise" money and incorporated that money into the first year of the 3-year distribution for all other controllers, because they were short on money for the first year, which is also why they made the "40% CAP agreement" with NATCA, which only applied in the first year of the distribution, to limit pay raises in the first year of the distribution. FAA management has admitted that they had to wait for the next fiscal-year allocation of money in October, 1999, to finally pay for their moves to the new locations and their 6.7% promotion raises. It has been discovered by Freedom of Information Act request that the delay in promotion caused them to get a smaller raise to BASE pay in the first year of the distribution, where those at their "target" facilities, where they were supposed to be, which includes those who moved in the first three years of the contracting-out program, were given as much as TWICE the percentage raise to base pay in the first year of the distribution. They then received NO second-year distribution raise and NO third-year distribution raise, only the standard 6.7% "promotion raise", or to the bottom of the new pay band at the new facilities, whichever was higher, but only HALF that raise while in training, then the rest upon qualification, arriving three weeks AFTER the second-year distribution. In the second year of the distribution, the temporary limit was lifted, as new fiscal-year allocation money became available, and all other controllers, including those who moved in the first three years of the program, had their pay go up to the correct position in the new pay band, RETROACTIVE to the first year of the distribution, EXCEPT the delayed controllers, who, arriving three weeks later, REMAINED below the bottom of the pay band while in training, with NO retroactive pay raises, then only up TO the bottom upon qualification (some only slightly higher than the bottom, depending on the facility level).

Then, in the third year of the distribution, after they had been at the new facilities for almost one year, everyone in the facility, including those who moved in the first three years of the program, received a pay raise, EXCEPT the delayed controllers. When the Facility Managers contacted the Regional Offices to find out what the problem was, they responded by fax with a BLATANT statement, "The employees in the fourth year of the DPP program are not entitled to reclassification/transition pay, because they were not AT their higher-level facilities when the new pay system went into effect". Never mind the fact that they were scheduled to be at the new facilities two months BEFORE the new pay system and distribution began, but were delayed in moving by 14 months for whatever reason. What does what didn't happen two years before (not moving on time) have to do with NOT getting a pay raise AFTER finally arriving? NOTHING. During the 14-month delay they were held under the old Title 5 FG(GS) pay system, because they were in a "frozen" program, which is the only correct thing NATCA and FAA management did with the delayed controllers. Halfway through the 14-month delay, that never should have happened in the first place, the NATCA President and the Head of the Air Traffic Division made an illegal agreement to move them to the new facilities using "paragraph 51" FROM THE NEW PAY SYSTEM, even though they were still Title 5 employees under the old pay system, which is like applying Canadian law in the United States, just because you are headed to Canada. The Union President who signed the agreement, Mike McNally, later admitted, after he was no longer Union President, that it was an "administrative error", but subsequent Union Officials and FAA management have refused to correct the error, and the subsequent Head of the Air Traffic Division gave Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell a letter with 5 PROVABLY false statements concerning the pay-setting of the delayed controllers. A now-retired FAA Chief Counsel gave two Idaho Senators a letter with one false and other misleading statements concerning the pay-setting of the delayed controllers. If they had moved AS SCHEDULED, it would have changed the distribution of the $200 million, and would have only affected all other controllers in the country at the time by, on average, $1.82 per paycheck, enough to buy two candy bars every two weeks, but caused the 150 delayed controllers to be cheated out of an average of $6,000 per year, a few as high as $20,700 per year. At least 3 are known to have resigned because of it, where they will not work for an employer who is STEALING labor from them, even with approval by their own Union.

Therefore, the overpayments to the 19,054 controllers have been continuous for 16.8 years, causing the FAA to LOSE approximately $16.5 million in overpayments during that time. If not for retirements during that time, the loss to the FAA would have been approximately $20 million. However, most of the delayed and cheated controllers were only cheated on a temporary basis, during the delay, then while at medium-level facilities, until either retiring (but many are being cheated out of the correct amount of retirement income), or later moving to an even higher-level facility, where they would be at the bottom of the pay band even if they had moved as originally scheduled from the Level One control towers, and are owed LESS THAN $6 million, probably less than $5 million. There is no statute of limitation on recovery of overpayments to Federal employees, so FAA management can recover the $16.5 million loss during the next one year with deductions, payout less than $6 million, with a NET RE-GAIN of at least $10.5 million, which they could use to hire more Air Traffic Controllers to ease the staffing shortage. The Union President, Paul Rinaldi, is refusing to represent the delayed controllers, as even HE would have to pay back his own overpayments he gained as a controller BEFORE becoming Union President, and he knows that if he takes action that will result in thousands of controllers having to pay back their overpayments, even over a one-year period, as each still-working ex-FG(GS) controller or recent retiree owes the FAA $1,048, he won't get re-elected, and he is making AT LEAST $250,000 per year PLUS benefits. The issue is about to go to President Obama, who issued a, "Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies" on March 10, 2010, for, "Finding and Recapturing Improper Payments", and it is President Obama's MANDATORY duty according to Section 2301(c)(1), Title 5, U.S.C., "Merit System Principles", concerning the proper treatment of Federal employees, which states, "...the President SHALL take ANY action..including the issuance of rules, regulations, or directives..", to order the FAA to correct the situation. The outcome will be reported here. Sources are personal experience, as I am one of the cheated Air Traffic Controllers, resigning from the Boeing Field FAA control tower in Seattle due to being cheated out of $20,700 per year AS COMPARED WITH OTHER IDENTICAL EMPLOYEES, other controller's comments, Union Official's comments (one Union Vice-President said, "It's just like hoping you get a promotion and you don't get it, it's just the way it goes", then she got into the same car with the FAA people and went to lunch), and information obtained by Freedom of Information Act request. P.O. Box 35, Spirit Lake, Id 83869


Another problem resulting from the staffing crisis is the increased number of flight delays throughout the nation. While the FAA says that these delays are not a result of the insufficient staff problem, 2007 was the second worst year for delays in FAA history. Patrick Forrey, former NATCA President, said that 25% of these delays are due to staffing problems.


  1. ^ Nolan, 1999.
  2. ^ "FAA Reauthorization Act of 1996, Public Law 104-264 Sec 253"
  3. ^ "NATCA v. Federal Service Impasses Panel". 
  4. ^ "NATCA Honors Top Controller Flight Assists with Archie League Medal of Safety Awards". National Air Traffic Controllers Association. March 22, 2010. Retrieved 2011-09-18. 
  5. ^ "National Air Traffic Controllers Association". Retrieved 10 August 2009. 
  6. ^ Conkey, Christopher (6 February 2008). "At Airports, Fewer Eyes on the Skies". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 August 2009. 
  7. ^ a b United States Government Accountability Office (November 2007). "Aviation Runway and Ramp Safety" (PDF). Retrieved 10 August 2009. 

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