Member Focus: Mike Barnes, VCT
Thursday, December 06, 2012
Born and raised, other places of living: Born in Victoria, Texas. Lived on both sides of the country and several places in between, as well as Japan and Iraq.
Q: How did you get involved in air traffic control and, eventually, NATCA?
A: I enlisted in the Marine Corps when I was 18 and, by chance, ended up in Air Traffic Control School at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. I ended up doing nine years as a controller on active duty until I left the Corps in 2006 as a Staff Sergeant with multiple tower and radar qualifications and two combat tours under my belt. My first experience with NATCA was actually less than favorable when I was stationed at MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. The DoD controllers there really seemed to have lost the focus behind a union and instead utilized it to squabble for power amongst themselves and restrict the training of Marine controllers when they didn’t get their way. My next encounter with NATCA was when we opened the doors at Victoria and decided to unionize almost immediately. Despite my less than stellar experiences with the union in the past, this episode has been very positive.
Q: Did you have a family history of unionism? Was there any reason you got involved in a union?
A: No one in my family has any experience with labor unions. As for here at Victoria, we initially got involved for the pay and benefits that come with being a unionized Federal Contract Tower.
Q: What are you currently involved in with NATCA? Have you had any social interactions with surrounding NATCA locals and/or FAA locals?
A: Current issues at Victoria continue to be staffing and with that issue goes the question of safety.
Q: What made you decide to become a FacRep at Victoria Tower (VCT), a contract tower?
A: I took over as President and FacRep in 2010 when the founding FacRep transferred to another contract tower. The learning curve was steep but there were and continue to be good people who are always willing to give advice or take a phone call to answer a question.
Q: What are your current working conditions like? Has there been any major differences since you were first hired?
A: We opened the doors in 2008 with five controllers able to work and in 2010 were reduced to three. This has put strain on those continuing to pull shifts due to regular six-day workweeks and we routinely have single controller coverage for the full eight-hour shift. As you can imagine, this lack of coverage makes breaks almost impossible, and chow is often eaten while on position in between transmissions to aircraft operating inside our airspace. Add to the mix someone on vacation or sick and the manning dynamic gets pretty interesting. Also, in our case, we staff a Texas National Guardsman who is about to deploy to Iraq for his second tour so we have supported his absence while he trains in preparation to continue the War on Terror.
Q: What is the most difficult part of your job when working an eight-hour shift alone? What is the most rewarding?
A: I would have to say the most difficult part of eight hours alone is probably the lack of human interaction, especially when it’s a slow shift. You end up leaving after a day like that craving some form of interaction with another person. As far as the most rewarding part of working a full shift alone, I’m not sure I’d call it rewarding, but I guess you don’t have to wrestle with anyone over what temperature the air conditioning needs to be set at.
Q: Many may not know that you've had some media attention highlighting the tough working conditions you are under at VCT. What has that media attention been like personally and professionally? What do you hope to gain out of it? What can you tell others who may want to come forward with their story, but are too scared/nervous to do so?
A: The media is always a double-edged sword, and I knew that going in. I believe very strongly in my cause for safety but there are those who took my press release very personally and continue to hold a grudge against me. I guess if my job description said anything about a “popularity contest” I would be worried, but since it doesn’t I don’t put much stock in people’s feelings for me. The bottom line is that safety should never be compromised and certainly not for some bottom-line thinking by people in charge.
As far as the end result, I would like to see my facility have at least another controller so that we could have double coverage and certainly more flexibility when it comes to vacation and people being sick. That just makes sense not only for safety but for quality of life for the employees. If someone has an issue and they think the media is the answer, I would tell them to be careful. There are very specific rules and laws concerning what you can and can’t say without putting your employment at risk. If you’re a bargaining unit employee, talk to your FacRep and let them take the lead. FacReps have a wealth of knowledge available to them if you ask for help. In my instance, my Alternate Regional Vice President, Ed Mears, was a huge help and got me talking with labor relations concerning what I could and couldn’t say. They were the ones who took the rants of a tired Marine and made it all publishable.
To read the article in which Mike was featured, click here.
Q: Has there been a favorite moment for you while at NATCA?
A: I’m still pretty green when it comes to my NATCA involvement and continue to defer to those with much more experience than I when it comes to the goings-on inside the Union. That being said, I enjoy attending training sessions with other FacReps and hearing what they deal with and how they’ve handled problems at their facilities.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time outside of NATCA?
A: When I’m not talking to airplanes or dealing with union business, I stay pretty active. I weight train in the gym at least five days a week and take trips on my motorcycle. When hunting season comes along you will rarely find me inside cell phone coverage areas – manning permitting!
Q: Do you have any advice/tips/messages for members who would like to get involved?
A: Not sure how it goes in the FAA, but as far as in the Federal Contract Towers the first step is the read your Collective Bargaining Agreement. You cannot speak intelligently about what you don’t know, and I’ve seen this personally several times. Other than that, ask questions. As I said before, there are plenty of NATCA members that have no problem answering questions, and in my experience, most enjoy passing on what they have learned. This is what continues to keep NATCA strong!