NATCA History Spotlight

NATCA30: NATCA Breaks Away From MEBA

NATCA30 Spotlight

During NATCA’s early years, organizers John Thornton and Howie Barte found funding for the controllers’ organizing efforts after initial support and money from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) was exhausted by late 1985.

In October 1985, Marine Engineers Beneficial Association President Gene DeFries called Barte to say MEBA would fund them. While this relationship would define the organization for the rest of the 1980s, the Union was ready for a change by the 1990s.

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The Origin of Lobby Weeks

NATCA30 Spotlight

1993: NATCA’s First Lobby Week
Background: NATCA’s first national legislative week began on Sept. 20, 1993. At the time, more than 250 members participated in the inaugural “Lobby Week.” The Union launched the program to raise legislative awareness and provide an opportunity for members to meet their congressional representatives.

Notable Issues: NATCA members descended on Capitol Hill in support of H.R. 2663, also known as The Air Traffic Controller Incentive and Retention Act, which included premium pay for working Saturdays and boosted the controller operational differential from 5 to 15 percent. As a result of our members’ legislative activism, the number of co-sponsors for the legislation increased from 10 to 41.

While the bill was ultimately not enacted, it was a promising first effort by NATCA to influence the legislative process and began a yearly tradition of activism on Capitol Hill.

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Early Air Traffic Control Challenges

Archie League
Archie League.


Archie League pioneered the air traffic control profession in 1929. League was employed by the city of St. Louis where every morning, he would pile equipment into a wheelbarrow he had rigged with an umbrella to protect him from the sun. He would trek across the 170-acre dirt airfield, position himself at the approach end of the runway, and wave his flags to issue holding and landing clearances for inbound pilots.

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Progress Through Partnership

Even before Steve Bell became NATCA President in 1988, he and other Union leaders advocated collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), dismissing traditional, contentious labor-management relations in favor of a partnership philosophy. Despite the FAA’s intolerant reputation, there were several professionals in the Agency who also embraced cooperation and hoped to avoid a repeat of the 1981 controller strike, opening the door to formalize a policy of working together.

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A Look Back at 30 Years of Conventions

NATCA30 Spotlight

1986 Chicago: NATCA’s Founding Convention

  • Theme: “Getting Down to Business”
  • Celebrated as a turning point for air safety
  • Issues:
    • Ratification of the constitution
    • Defines NATCA
    • Relationship between NATCA and MEBA (Marine Engineers Beneficial Association) established
    • Permits changes and amendments to pending constitution
  • Controllers’ first show of unity since losing collective bargaining rights five years prior following the PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) strike

Read more: A Look Back at 30 Years of Conventions