Rinaldi, Babbitt Discuss Collaboration on High-Profile Stage
Friday, September 23, 2011
NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt took the stage after three cabinet secretaries Wednesday morning at the DOT’s first Semi-Annual Aviation Workforce Management Conference. The two led a panel discussion on “Best Practices in Labor Management Relations.”
The message was clear: NATCA and the Agency have made steady progress thus far in establishing a collaborative process. Both Babbitt and Rinaldi agreed that collaboration must be institutionalized as part of the operating culture instead of being personality-driven if success is to be continued.
“We have been very methodical in building this collaborative process to make sure we’re not steamrolling each other.” Rinaldi said. “We’re methodically building this brick by brick. We’re not throwing bricks; we’re building a road. We must have a lasting process.”
Rinaldi added that the process must remain intact regardless of who fills the roles of NATCA president, FAA administrator and secretary of transportation in the future. “This is how you maintain our competitive advantage in the global aerospace industry—by having collaborative processes in place.”
Babbitt said achieving lasting success will require both the FAA and NATCA to “put chains” on the pendulum swings that often result when there is a change in leadership. Babbitt went on to say that those swings “take focus off of what we’re here to do, which is continue to have the safest, most efficient airspace system in the world.”
During Wednesday’s panel discussion, Babbitt made the point that collaboration starts at the top of each organization and centers on communication; the sender and the receiver must have a common understanding of the message. That was key in the development of the collaborative process undertaken after both Rinaldi and Babbitt took their respective offices in 2009.
Babbitt noted that starting their new roles at the same time was an advantage. “We’ve seen the pathway our institutions have taken before and it’s clear to us it was not a pathway to success.”
The collaborative process has resulted in great changes the past two years and Rinaldi cited one exciting example: the use of alternate dispute resolution to resolve grievances. This has allowed the parties to avoid the use of expensive arbitrations and save taxpayer money. Rinaldi noted that the continued joint efforts on NextGen and professional standards “open up the door for us to do so much more.”
Rinaldi said both NATCA and the FAA are doing a good job of involving local FAA managers and NATCA facility representatives as much as possible to handle and resolve issues. Through comprehensive training, both the FAA and NATCA have equipped managers and union reps with the tools they need to establish workgroups and ensure involvement. This kind of collaboration helps guarantee the best decisions are made.
Last year, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood chartered the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee (FAAC) with the mandate to provide information, advice and recommendations to DOT to ensure the competitiveness of the U.S. aviation industry. In particular, Secretary LaHood chartered the FAAC to address transportation needs, challenges and opportunities of the U.S. and global economies.
The FAAC is composed of 19 members representing all facets of the U.S. aviation industry, including labor. One of the FAAC’s recommendations addressed workplace issues and asked for a semi-annual Aviation Workforce Management Conference.
The timing of the conference could not have been more appropriate. Simultaneously, in Dallas, a key collaboration meeting was taking place. Members of the NATCA National Executive Board were joined by their counterparts from senior FAA leadership for what one NEB member said was a successful series of discussions.
“The DO/RVP meeting, I think, was very productive,” said NATCA Southwest Regional Vice President Tim Smith, who has served on the Collaborative Workgroup since its creation nearly 18 months ago. “We had some excellent discussions about improving our regional/service area relationships to be more collaborative, including improved/increased communications, fostering better, more productive relationships, and demonstrating support for the regional coordinators and facilities in the collaborative process.”