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.
With backing from then FAA Administrator T. Allan McArtor, the introduction of a training course titled “Labor and Management: Partners in Problem Solving” in March 1988 helped begin to change adversarial attitudes. The curriculum was designed to jointly teach facility managers and Union representatives about their rights and responsibilities as well as techniques in communicating and resolving differences.
Read more: Progress Through Partnership
In August 1994, Darrell Meachum, a Fort Worth Center controller, hoped to pool the efforts of many NATCA locals that ran charity fundraisers and bring recognition to the air traffic control profession. His wife Cathy, a dental hygienist with a background running auctions for the American Cancer Society, shared his passion.
Their solution? Form an organization that highlighted the incredible charitable work air traffic controllers were already doing and give them an avenue to expand. They called it the NATCA Charitable Foundation (NCF). Originally incorporated in Texas, the organization expanded to Florida in 2001, and to Georgia the next year. The long-term goal was to make it a nationwide entity, but in measured steps to prevent a good idea from “crumbling under its own weight due to poor implementation,” said Darrell, who also served as NATCA’s Southwest Regional Vice President from 2003-09.
|Darrell and Cathy Meachum.
That type of far-flung expansion is something some never imagined possible when he envisioned the foundation, but just six years after its creation, the foundation raised more than $17,000 at the 2000 Biennial Convention in Anchorage. As NCF President, Cathy Meachum would go on to mentor Elena Nash, who served as NCF President from 2011-2017, only recently passing the baton this year to new NCF President Corrie Conrad.
NCF quickly became a success and NATCA officially recognized Cathy’s ongoing efforts with an honorary lifetime membership. It was the first time NATCA bestowed the tribute on someone wholly outside the air traffic control profession. Cathy, who’d been an associate member for 7 years, was in shock, saying it is an honor beyond expression.
“They’re amazed at how far we’ve come and how much we’ve accomplished,” Cathy Meachum said. “They didn’t think it was feasible to get a bunch of people to do all this work by volunteers only.”
Read more: The NATCA Charitable Foundation
(NATCA would like to thank the NATCA Historical Committee, Howie Barte, Dee Robison, and Mike Palumbo for lending their efforts and expertise to NATCA30 coverage.)
This week, we mark the end of our NATCA30 coverage for the 1980s and prepare to delve into the 1990s era history of our great Union.
The story of NATCA began long before the Union’s 1987 election and Federal Labor Relations Authority certification. It began with John F. Thornton, a gifted and influential leader whose passion for representing the interests of the nation’s air traffic controllers began with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), and continued as a national organizer of NATCA.
Read more: March 10, 2017 // NATCA 30 - Wrapping Up Our Look Back at the 1980s
NATCA’s First Elected National Executive Board.
From left to right: Will Faville Jr., Alaskan Region; President Steve Bell; Jim Breen, New England Region; Joseph Bellino, Great Lakes Region; Barry Krasner, Eastern Region; Dan Brandt, Central Region; Executive Vice President Ray Spickler; Lee Riley, Southern Region; Ed Mullin, Southwest Region; and Gary Molen, Northwest Mountain Region. Not pictured is Richard Bamberger, Western Pacific Region.
On January 26, 1988, almost 300 delegates packed the Phoenix Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta for NATCA’s second convention. They were seated in nine regional clusters. Their goals included establishing constitution, finance, and safety committees comprising one member from each region; defining an “active” member as a controller who had been certified in the preceding two years or a developmental in a training program; and limiting the right to vote or hold office to “active” members.
The concern over the definition of an active member was rooted in the belief many delegates held that NATCA would have more credibility if its members ran their union. They had concerns over the possibility of John Thornton assuming leadership and intrinsically tying them to the fate of PATCO.
“We want an organization of, by, and for air traffic controllers,” Western Pacific Regional Rep Karl Grundmann told the convention body in support of seeking an alternative option for president.
Controllers who supported Grundmann felt strongly about completely disassociating from PATCO. They feared that NATCA could become another radical organization and opposed Thornton running their new union.
Read more: March 3, 2017 // NATCA’s First National Elections
As the NATCA calendar flipped to 1990, Barry Krasner was an eight-year veteran air traffic controller in the LaGuardia Area at New York TRACON (N90) and a deeply passionate and dedicated Union activist. He was serving on the Union’s first National Executive Board as its Eastern Regional Representative. The precocious Union was officially just over two years old and it rented out a small suite of office space at 444 North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C.
By the time the decade ended and the calendar flipped to 2000, Krasner had served as the Union’s first two-term president and was named its first President Emeritus. NATCA had purchased its own office building in Washington, D.C., which it appropriately named after Krasner. The Union had fought and won countless battles in all arenas, had achieved momentous milestones such as pay reclassification, and stormed into the new millennium armed with a landmark contract called the Green Book. It possessed an enormous wealth of confidence and momentum, began to grow its ranks by organizing many other FAA aviation safety professionals, and saw a rising level of solidarity.
Read more: Barry Krasner Leads NATCA Into the 1990s