Member Spotlight: Tim Leonard, Southern Region
Thursday, March 22, 2012

This is the seventh in a series of articles spotlighting veteran NATCA members looking back at the first 25 years of the union leading up to the June 19, 2012, silver anniversary of NATCA's Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) certification. We are profiling one member each month from each of the 10 regions, in addition to also remembering key events that have helped shape the union and its growth as a strong advocate for its members and aviation safety.


Tim Leonard

Growing up in the South, NATCA Southern Region (NSO) Alternate Regional Vice President (ARVP) Tim Leonard only knew one thing about unions: they were the reason a car cost so much. Little did he know that later in life he would be a founding member of a powerful, national union.  

Now a 25-year NATCA member, Leonard has a wealth of knowledge about organized labor and truly embodies the phrase, “Union or die.”

A 33-year air traffic control veteran, Leonard’s career began with the Air Force in 1979. In 1984, the FAA hired Leonard to work at Miami Center (ZMA). Working at ZMA only three years after the PATCO strike, Leonard said that a lot of the facility’s controllers were coming from the military and were simply happy to have jobs since Miami was hit especially hard during the strike. In 1986, he said the FAA repopulated the staff offices and started mistreating the air traffic controllers again.

Inspired to secure a way for air traffic controllers to be consistently regarded as the professionals they are, Leonard joined the NATCA organizing campaign and took an active role in the organizational drive throughout the Southeastern states and the Caribbean.

He became addicted to leading the drive and paving the way for the union, so it was only natural he jumped at the chance to lead his facility.

In 1987, at the “ripe old age” of 27, Leonard became the first elected ZMA Facility Representative. Like many of the first elected facility representatives, Leonard sought much of his early training through the resources of AFL-CIO unions and the Meany University in Maryland. Leonard would later use that knowledge along with his experience as facility representative to help develop others.

After eight years as ZMA Facility Representative and working on various regional and national teams, Leonard transferred to Atlanta Center (ZTL). From 1995 to September 2006, Leonard held a variety of NATCA positions at ZTL, including area representative and facility representative.

While the NSO has had its hard times—enduring hurricanes and the FAA sometimes neglecting the needs of the San Juan, St. Thomas and other Caribbean facilities—no time was tougher than the days of the White Book Imposed Work Rules (IWRs).

As the IWRs were implemented in September 2006, Victor Santore took office as NSO Regional Vice President and asked Leonard to help with the Labor Relations Department. Santore promised Leonard more work than he had ever encountered, and no official time to go with it.  Leonard gladly accepted the position out of pure disgust at the FAA trying to destroy what NATCA had worked so hard to build.

“Those that thought they could bring this great union down underestimated the pure passion and strength of the professionals that built this union, the new activists that joined it, and all that were determined to see that aviation in the United States continued to be the safest and most efficient in the world,” said Leonard.

That time spent fighting the IWRs turned out to be the greatest work of Leonard’s career and he attributes it to the people who remained and fought for the NATCA family.

“While I will always have a great respect for most NATCA activists, the ones that stayed in the fight when the Agency stole all the cards will always hold an extra level of my respect and appreciation,” said Leonard. “My brothers and sisters in the Southern Region that answered the call, made any sacrifices well worth it. “

What amazed Leonard the most was how many of those same activists were active in NATCA’s conception, and how steadfast they remained over the years.

In September of 2009, Santore was reelected to his second term as RVP and asked Leonard to be the ARVP. Leonard was happy to take the position and to this day remains inspired by the collective work of the NEB, the National Office staff, and the many great NATCAvists who, “work tirelessly to ensure that the recent accomplishments NATCA has reached, stand even stronger against the inevitable winds of political change.”

Leonard said that he has had a wonderful career and the most gratifying part has been the success of the veteran NATCA members and the new NATCA members coming together to defeat the IWRs and get NATCA back on track to having a professional, sustainable relationship with the FAA.

Even though that relationship is back on track, Leonard said there is still plenty of work to be done at NATCA. While Leonard can’t be with the union forever, he hopes the young members will step up and take on leadership roles as he did.  

“If you’re not a facility rep. by the time you’re 27, you’re dragging your feet,” said Leonard. “Seriously, there’s plenty of work to be done at NATCA and though at times it may not seem rewarding, truth is, overall, it is extremely rewarding.”

Leonard has been eligible to retire for a couple years now, but has another five before he must leave the profession; he plans to stay at least another three.

As for retirement?

“I’m thinking I need to get a plan,” he said.