NATCA History Spotlight

NATCA and the FAA Reach First CBA

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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.

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NATCA’s Founding Convention

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NATCA's Founding Convention
When: Sept. 23-24, 1986
Where: Chicago, Ill.
Theme: “Getting Down to Business”

  • Marked as a “turning point” for air safety;
  • Ratification of the constitution, defines NATCA, relationship between NATCA and MEBA (Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association), permits changes and amendments;
  • Controllers’ first show of unity since they lost their collective bargaining rights five years prior.

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The Origin of the NATCA Name and Logo

Logo Evolution

The evolution of the NATCA logo from the AATCC organizing effort to NATCA name we all know today. The left image is Barte's first AATCC logo. The middle image is a cleaned up version a commerical artists assited Barte with. The last image is the NATCA logo as it exists today after a MEBA-affiliated artist switched out AATCC for NATCA after MEBA agreed to fund the young union.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan took office as President and the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike, two events that set into motion a new age for organized labor in aviation. Frustrated with the status quo, PATCO members demanded better working conditions, better pay, and a 32-hour workweek. Three hours before the proposed strike, the Reagan administration opposed any further concessions to air traffic controllers, forcing PATCO to vote on whether to strike. They narrowly met the strike authorization point, with 80.5 percent of the membership voting in favor.

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John Thornton and the Birth of NATCA

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Thornton1The story of NATCA began long before the Union’s 1987 election and Federal Labor Relations Authority certification. It began with NATCA’s founding father, 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.

“He gave this union the foundation on which to build, and he set the tone that NATCA was a different union with different goals,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “Without John Thornton, NATCA may never have existed.”

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NATCA's First Legislative Victory

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As NATCA began to spread its wings after its June 19, 1987, certification, the founding members of the union continued to face issues from the Reagan Administration. While PATCO had been decertified, the issues that plagued the workforce remained. One problem was related to punitive actions against the workforce.

Steve Bell arrived at NATCA headquarters as President in August 1988. At the time, the Union was lobbying Congress on an issue that had fueled the initial organizing effort: the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988 (FELRTCA). A bill by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., would immediately substitute the government for federal employees as the defendant in civil lawsuits.

SteveBell July19882

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