NATCA History Spotlight

March 10, 2017 // NATCA 30 - Wrapping Up Our Look Back at the 1980s

NATCA30 Spotlight

(NATCA would like to thank the NATCA Historical Committee, Howie Barte, Dee Robison, and Mike Palumbo for lending their efforts and expertise to NATCA30 coverage.)

This week, we mark the end of our NATCA30 coverage for the 1980s and prepare to delve into the 1990s era history of our great Union.

The story of NATCA began long before the Union’s 1987 election and Federal Labor Relations Authority certification. It began with John F. Thornton, a gifted and influential leader whose passion for representing the interests of the nation’s air traffic controllers began with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), and continued as a national organizer of NATCA.

Read more: March 10, 2017 // NATCA 30 - Wrapping Up Our Look Back at the 1980s

March 3, 2017 // NATCA’s First National Elections


NATCA’s First Elected National Executive Board. 

From left to right: Will Faville Jr., Alaskan Region; President Steve Bell; Jim Breen, New England Region; Joseph Bellino, Great Lakes Region; Barry Krasner, Eastern Region; Dan Brandt, Central Region; Executive Vice President Ray Spickler; Lee Riley, Southern Region; Ed Mullin, Southwest Region; and Gary Molen, Northwest Mountain Region. Not pictured is Richard Bamberger, Western Pacific Region.

On January 26, 1988, almost 300 delegates packed the Phoenix Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta for NATCA’s second convention. They were seated in nine regional clusters. Their goals included establishing constitution, finance, and safety committees comprising one member from each region; defining an “active” member as a controller who had been certified in the preceding two years or a developmental in a training program; and limiting the right to vote or hold office to “active” members.

The concern over the definition of an active member was rooted in the belief many delegates held that NATCA would have more credibility if its members ran their union. They had concerns over the possibility of John Thornton assuming leadership and intrinsically tying them to the fate of PATCO.

“We want an organization of, by, and for air traffic controllers,” Western Pacific Regional Rep Karl Grundmann told the convention body in support of seeking an alternative option for president.

Controllers who supported Grundmann felt strongly about completely disassociating from PATCO. They feared that NATCA could become another radical organization and opposed Thornton running their new union.

Read more: March 3, 2017 // NATCA’s First National Elections

NATCA Gets Big Win in Arbitration Case

NATCA30 Spotlight

Reproduced below is an article published in 1989 in the NATCA Newsletter.

NATCA Gets Big Win in Arbitration Case

(Washington, D.C., July 12, 1989)

An arbitrator ruled today in favor of NATCA on the question whether a facility representative may leave the facility to perform official representational duties while on official time.

NATCA President R. Steve Bell greeted the decision with enthusiasm and said that it “establishes clear and needed guidelines in a fundamentally important area and will in fact strengthen, not sully relations between NATCA and the FAA. There is no bad blood here.”

He went on to say that the arbitration should not be viewed as “adversarial but rather as an accepted means of communications in the labor relations arena.”

Read more: NATCA Gets Big Win in Arbitration Case

NATCA and the FAA Reach First CBA

NATCA30 Spotlight

While NATCA was a union composed of a different generation of controllers than those who were members of PATCO, many employees at the Federal Aviation Administration remained the same and the new union’s personalities began to matter. As the time for a new NATCA-FAA agreement crept closer, NATCA had exceptional leadership with President Steve Bell and Executive Vice President Ray Spickler, who served from 1988-1991. Bell believed strongly in collaboration and Spickler followed a personal philosophy of believing in someone until they betrayed his trust. This began to lay the groundwork for more openness from both sides.

As NATCA took its first steps with the FAA, the membership was nervous. When NATCA formed a steering committee to develop a joint labor-management cooperative with the FAA, it proved to be a groundbreaking charge for the group. Work with the steering committee revealed differences within NATCA on what the union’s main issues should be: traditional labor management relations or “new” initiatives.

Read more: NATCA and the FAA Reach First CBA

The Importance of NATCA Training

NATCA30 Spotlight

When a group of new FacReps gather next week in Las Vegas for the first of four NATCA Academy Basic Rep Training classes scheduled for this year, they will continue a proud and valuable tradition in this Union of training and education that began with a few classes in 1989 and the launch of a formal training program in the same year.

The FacRep class forms the bedrock of educating the Union’s local chapter presidents and other activists. The curriculum, which has changed over the years to adapt to new collective bargaining agreements, has always covered the spectrum of labor-management relations, including workers’ rights under federal law. In the early days, the class focused heavily on unfair labor practice charges, grievance procedures, conduct and discipline, midterm bargaining, leadership skills, and more.

Read more: The Importance of NATCA Training