Member Spotlight: Curt Howe, Region X
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Editor's note: This is the last in a series of articles spotlighting
veteran NATCA members looking back at the first 25 years of the union.
We've profiled 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
Pictured left to right: wife Laura, daughter Baily, daughter Amanda and Curt
Why is veteran Region X Engineers and Architects bargaining unit member
Curt Howe, the ENM (FAA Employees Northwest Mountain) Local President,
embarrassed to say that he’s been a NATCA member for just over 15 years?
Because he fears people will think he’s “old.”
Howe isn’t a NATCA charter member because the Engineers and Architects
bargaining unit wasn’t officially part of NATCA until 1997. However,
Howe is a charter member of the E&A bargaining unit and recently
celebrated his 25th anniversary as an FAA employee.
For those unfamiliar with Region X, you can guess who its members are by
its slogan, “We Are More Than Just Air Traffic Controllers.” It has
grown to include Engineers and Architects, the Aircraft Certification
and Airport Division employees, and the men and women in the Regional
Administrators’ Line of Business, including the General Counsel Division
and the Drug Abatement Inspectors, Regional Office Staff Specialists
and Aviation Technical Systems Specialists. Region X members are spread
throughout the country.
Since 1997, Howe has represented FAA workers in the Northwest Mountain
Region. In 1996 he was an E&A bargaining unit organizer and part of
the first group of non-air traffic controller delegates to participate
in NATCA in Washington, in 1998. He is the Region X representative for
the NATCA Historical Committee, a NATCA First Chair Arbitration
Advocate, the NATCA engineer delegate to the Council of Engineers &
Scientists Organizations (CESO) and he has been a Local ENM delegate for
every convention since 1998. Howe is also heavily involved in NATCA
labor relations. He’s been on many contract and pay negotiations teams,
including the second Engineers Contract Negotiations Team, and in 2004
he received a Natty Award (now known as the "Timmy" Award in honor of
the late Tim Haines) for his incredible dedication and hard work. He’s
even represented NATCA engineers throughout the world (as a CESO
delegate) at professional conventions in Melbourne, Copenhagen and Rio
As you can see, Howe has an extensive resume from his tenure at NATCA.
But that’s not why he devotes his time to being a union leader.
“NATCA’s given me the chance to experience stuff I never would have
experienced at the FAA or in my personal life,” said Howe. “It’s given
all of us a voice in the workplace; we have an impact on our own working
conditions and we can negotiate our pay and our job conditions.”
When Howe began working for the FAA, he said that FAA managers
controlled engineers’ work and career development. There were
pseudo-leadership groups of managers, contractors and technicians who
would make decisions about those matters. Howe, based in Seattle, said
his colleagues, Floyd Majors and Jim Clark, tried to participate in those
decisions as far back as 1993, but the managers denied engineers access
to the meetings and went so far as to tell the engineers, “You have no
place at the table unless you are unionized.” That drove the engineers
to form a union — they were professionals and they wanted a voice in the
“The managers were driving the engineers into a non-professional
workplace where engineering was viewed as an overhead expense,” said
Howe. “They wanted to make us into technicians and didn’t give much
value to our engineering degrees, experience or knowledge. It was an
issue of professionalism.”
So a few of Howe’s colleagues decided to find a professional union. They
teamed up with some engineers from Atlanta and New York and met with
NATCA in October 1995. In January 1997, Howe got involved as an
organizer when Majors, who had been organizing with NATCA, resigned.
Majors asked Howe to take over the organizing effort and the lead role
for the Seattle engineering office.
Howe enjoys helping the other Region X bargaining units coordinate and
share information concerning projects and budgets with air traffic
controllers. The units are able to work together directly and share
information that managers typically don’t. But for Howe, the highlight
of working with the other Region X bargaining units was when he gave the
members guidance while they were in the process of joining NATCA and
continuing to support the other units while trying to add more members
to the NATCA family.
When Howe joined NATCA in 1997, the engineers didn’t have their own
region. They were lumped in with the regions of the air traffic control
(ATC) bargaining unit. Starting at the 1998 NATCA Convention in Seattle,
the engineers changed the language in the NATCA constitution to try and form their own region. It took a few conventions after that and constant
changes in the constitution for them to finally get their own region,
which became Region X. The engineers wanted their own region for several
reasons, including that they felt their professions and issues were
prominently different from the ATC bargaining unit. With the eventual
inclusion of other non-ATC units, the group's number of members, with
up to 3,500 throughout the 50 states, was large enough to constitute
their own region.
Aside from the challenges in establishing their own region, Region X members
have encountered situations unlike those that the ATC bargaining unit members have faced, such as
when five Region X bargaining units endured imposed work rules (IWRs)
before the ATC bargaining unit did. The Region X members felt like the
rules had been unfairly imposed and that if they were air traffic
controllers they never would have been stuck with the IWRs. Two years
later, that assumption proved false when the controllers too found
themselves working under IWRs, also known as the White Book. Howe
said when that happened it was a disappointing milestone for labor
unions in the FAA.
“It was a realization that the Agency didn’t like anyone and they would put the Imposed Work Rules on anyone,” he said.
Another challenge for Region X is the complexity of its local
constitutions, due to the number of bargaining units the region
represents and the number of people within those bargaining units. There
are more members per local and more people involved in a local election
than in a typical ATC local and local election. Howe said while he is
proud to have such a large number of members and diverse job
classifications in the region, it makes solidarity difficult to achieve.
One highlight of being in Howe’s position is seeing the improvement in
collaboration between the FAA and NATCA. Howe said that all the things NATCA President
Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert are doing with the Agency have had a very positive effect
in Region X and that camaraderie within NATCA has never been better.
Howe explained that collaboration is crucial because it encourages people to
join the union.
“People like to get along. They want to see employees cooperating in
common goals with the Agency,” he said. “Open talk causes movement
within the group that makes the group better. It’s helped everybody in
NATCA. The farther it goes, the better.”
While there are many highlights of Howe’s union leadership, the most satisfying part for him is after he’s solved a problem or issue and he
hears from third parties that he was effective in what he did and that
NATCA was on the right path the entire time.
“The really hard and controversial stuff that we do as union leaders can
come with a lot of stress, but it’s very gratifying on the back side to
hear that what you were doing was the right thing,” said Howe.
While Howe doesn’t wish stress on anyone, he does wish for NATCA’s young
members to get involved. For those young members looking to serve the
union and take on leadership roles, Howe’s advice is to participate as
soon as possible.
“Don’t wait. Don’t sit idly by,” he said. “Get up and be active in your
career. You’re not going to find another organization that is more
closely aligned with your career and your goals than NATCA.”
Howe is eligible to retire in five years, but plans to keep working for at least 10 more.