NATCA Convention 2010 (Micah Maziar (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0))
NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert
to Serve Historic Third Term
Over the past twenty-seven years the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has grown to become one of the biggest power players in Washington D.C. NATCA was formed from the ashes of the PATCO strike, when President Ronald Reagan summarily fired over 12,000 air traffic controllers on August 3rd 1981.
The problems that the PATCO controllers talked about – safety, fatigue, and equipment failures – did not go away when the workers were terminated. A few years after that dreadful day, a new generation of controllers began to organize and eventually formed the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).
NATCA was officially certified as the sole representative for Federal air traffic controllers in an overwhelming election in 1987. Since that small and humble beginning, NATCA has grown to represent over 20,000 public and private air traffic controllers, as well as engineers and safety professionals who help make the National Airspace System the safest and most efficient in the world.
NATCA President Paul Rinaldi
This week the National Air Traffic Controllers Association announced the reelection of President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. They will be the first President and Executive Vice President in the history of NATCA to serve three terms in their respective positions. They ran for the third term unopposed.
“I am honored that the incredible professionals of NATCA give their full support for Executive Vice President Gilbert and me to represent them for another term,” said Rinaldi. “We look forward to continuing our work as their voices in Washington and around the world to enhance collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and the aviation industry, and to advance the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System.”
“The opportunity to continue representing my NATCA brothers and sisters is a true privilege,” said Gilbert. “The dedication and passion they have for their professions and the system is unrivaled. Together, we have accomplished so much over the past six years; I’m eager to continue building on the work we’ve done and take NATCA and the National Airspace System to new heights.”
Labor Struggles Shape NATCA’s Future
Paul Rinaldi began his career as a controller at Dulles (IAD) Tower where he served as the Facility Representative and the Alternate Regional Vice President for the Eastern Region. Rinaldi’s diverse history in NATCA includes time as an Air Safety Investigator and arbitration advocate.
In 2006, Rinaldi was elected to the National Executive Board as NATCA’s Executive Vice President. At the time, NATCA was in a bitter labor dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA and NATCA could not come to an agreement on their Collective Bargaining Agreement and the FAA unilaterally forced its “last best offer” on to the membership. These “imposed work rules” slashed the pay for newly hired controllers and sparked outrage by the membership.
These were tough times for NATCA members and it would take strong leadership from their then-President Patrick Forrey and his newly elected Executive Vice President Rinaldi. As push came to shove, and speaking became yelling, NATCA members banded together to fight the oppressive work rules. NATCA would later describe this “as the worst time in our union’s history.”
To overcome these “imposed work rules,” NATCA needed a legislative fix and leadership change from the White House down. At the time, Trish Gilbert was the chair of NATCA’s Legislative Committee. This very difficult but prestigious position was responsible for making NATCA’s issues known to the members of Congress.
NATCA had many friends on the Hill, both Republican and Democrat. Trish Gilbert and all of NATCA’s legislative team lobbied the members to help resolve this dispute. NATCA found help from the relatively unknown Junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.
In 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama, spoke to NATCA members at their annual lobby week, NATCA in Washington.
Just prior to speaking at the NATCA in Washington event, Senator Obama co-sponsored bi-partisan legislation written by Senators Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and James M. Inhofe, R-Okla — The Federal Aviation Administration Fair Labor Management Dispute Resolution Act of 2006 — to block the FAA from imposing its work rules and require it to bargain in good faith with NATCA.
Though the bill failed to stop the FAA from imposing their “work rules,” Senator Obama solidified his relationship with NATCA and the 15,000 air traffic controllers it represents.
NATCA worked with other labor unions across the nation to help Senator Obama become President Obama.
On top of his other union obligations, (then-Executive Vice President) Rinaldi spend much of his time traveling the country, speaking directly to members about the importance of standing strong against the “imposed work rules” and the importance of electing a President who would stand with NATCA.
(Then-Senator Barack Obama Addresses NATCA members at their convention in 2008)
“President-elect Obama supported NATCA from the beginning in our long struggle for fair collective bargaining rights with the Federal Aviation Administration,” Patrick Forrey, then-President of NATCA wrote in a 2008 statement. “We were proud to support him and join with working men and women across the country to win this campaign.”
Shortly after taking office, President Obama directed the FAA to open negotiations with NATCA and resolve the three-year labor dispute. By the fall of 2009, NATCA and the FAA reached a tentative agreement that was ultimately ratified by the members.
In 2009, just after the agreement was ratified by the membership, NATCA President Forrey stated, “Today, the members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association overwhelmingly approved a collective bargaining agreement with the FAA. It is a testament to our membership that they have endured the worst time in our union’s history, working towards and holding out for a contract that was negotiated in a fair process and agreed to by the parties.”
“This would not have been possible without the support and commitment of the Obama Administration, key members of Congress and the AFL-CIO in providing a fair and transparent process,” Forrey said. “Now is the time to move forward and forge a working relationship that will stabilize the workforce, effectively train the large number of new hires and keep the current system safe and efficient while we transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System.”
A NEW ERA
Just prior to reaching an agreement with the FAA, Paul Rinaldi was elected President of NATCA and Trish Gilbert was elected Executive Vice President.
“I’m honored that my NATCA brothers and sisters have chosen me to represent them and am equal to the task. Throughout my career, I’ve made it my mission to further the goals of this union and I’m not stopping now,” said Rinaldi.
NATCA’s Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert
Trish Gilbert was very well known throughout NATCA. Over her 21-year career, Gilbert was the Facility Representative at the Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center, chaired NATCA’s National Legislative Committee from 2005-2009, chaired NATCA’s National Organizing Committee and was the NATCA Charitable Foundation’s Vice President, and then its President.
“I congratulate my colleague, friend and NATCA president-elect and am ready to work with him to move our organization to the next level,” said the newly elected Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert in 2009.
The new leadership team of Rinaldi & Gilbert faced both new and familiar challenges. For the three years prior to their taking office, the relationship between NATCA and the FAA was completely broken. Rinaldi and Gilbert led NATCA to a new era of mutual collaboration with the agency. They have made improving the working relationship between NATCA, the FAA and Department of Transportation a top priority. Efforts like the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP), Professional Standards, and Partnership For Safety are a result of their focus on progress and safety. These processes have led to collaborative decisions on important issues involving airspace, procedures, technology, staffing and training while also raising NATCA’s leadership role and voice in the aviation industry.
Political Strife Results In NATCA’s Rise To Power In Washington
2013 would prove to be an especially difficult year for NATCA and its members, as NATCA began warning people about the possible effects the Sequester cuts could have on the National Airspace System and the flying public.
“Sequestration cut nearly $493 million from the FAA’s Operations budget, $142 million from its Facilities and Equipment budget, and $8.6 million from its Research, Engineering, and Development budget,” Rinaldi testified to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “These sequestration cuts were not the result of a research-driven strategy to increase safety and efficiency, but rather for the sole purpose of saving money.”
“Today’s announcement from the FAA unfortunately confirms the concerns we have been warning about for months – sequestration will significantly and perhaps permanently undermine the capacity of the National Airspace System. The fact that they will not just be furloughing critical FAA personnel but closing air traffic control towers means the system will be even more compromised than anticipated,” said Rinaldi. “The National Air Traffic Controllers Association continues to urge the nation’s policy-makers to find a solution that prevents or mitigates the impact of sequestration in a way that does not diminish the world’s safest and most efficient national airspace system.”
As March 2013 approached, it became clear that the Sequester cuts were going to take effect, and they were going to be painful for the American public. NATCA produced its own report on exactly how the Sequestration cuts would affect the flying public, and explained how every air traffic controller would be forced to take between 11-22 furlough days – forced time off without pay – between March and the end of the fiscal year.
The forced furloughs would mean that at least 10% of the available controllers would be forced off without pay on any given day. The Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, and NATCA warned that this would mean immediate and significant delays throughout the National Airspace System.
NATCA, under the strong leadership of Rinaldi and Gilbert, tried to overturn these disastrous cuts. NATCA worked with legislators from both sides of the political aisle to pass legislation to stop the controller furloughs.
Like many things in life, sometimes you have to lose something to realize how much you really needed it. This was the case with Congress as air traffic controllers were furloughed in April of 2013.
“After just two days of furloughs for air traffic controllers, more than 10,000 flights have been delayed and more than 600 canceled,” wrote the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “This is no way to run the world’s safest, most efficient national airspace system. Controllers continue to do their best every day to keep the system running. It’s time policymakers show the same amount of effort and dedication.”
Within three days, a bill was put on the floor of the House to end the controller furloughs. Within one week the FAA Furlough Bill was signed into law and controllers returned to work. It clearly showed the importance of the air traffic system and the political might of NATCA.
“Thanks to the action taken this week in Congress, they will be able to return to work full time,” NATCA said. “We applaud the bipartisan nature of the votes and look forward to working closely with the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the newly granted flexibility is exercised in a way that maintains our national airspace system’s status as the safest and most efficient in the world.”
As 2013 continued, it became more and more obvious that House and Senate were never going to agree on a federal budget. Without a budget the government was forced to shutdown on October 1st. NATCA President Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Gilbert worked with Congress and informed the public of the dire effects on the air traffic system if Congress did not act to end the government shutdown.
“It is unacceptable that thousands of our aviation safety professionals have been forced to stay home due to partisan posturing in Congress,” said Rinaldi. “I implore Congress to reach an agreement to end this shutdown, which is hurtful to our nation’s aviation system, our economy and the American people.”
Image From NATCA
15,000 air traffic controllers were forced to go into work without knowing if they would be paid for their work.
“There are grave repercussions as a result of the shutdown on all aspects of the system,” said Rinaldi. “There are real people suffering real consequences as a result of this shutdown. The only way to restore the aviation system to full staffing and speed is to end it right away. This is an increasingly difficult situation that will only worsen as it drags on. The shutdown must be stopped immediately.”
NATCA was not alone in the fight to protect the National Airspace System from the government shutdown. NATCA partnered with unions and aviation advocacy groups calling for an end to the government shutdown.
It took two full weeks before the political winds shifted and the government reopened. NATCA began to make a call for a more stable form of funding, to avoid these problems in the future.
“Sequestration, the shutdown and the uncertainty they have wrought have disrupted flight schedules, peeled away layers of safety redundancies and threatened our ability to maintain fully staffed and trained workforces,” NATCA wrote.
It is clear to see why Paul Rinaldi, Trish Gilbert, and NATCA are helping to shape policies that affect not only the National Airspace System but all of labor as a whole.
At the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention, Rinaldi was elected as a vice president of the labor federation’s Executive Council. Rinaldi also serves as a union representative on the FAA National Labor-Management Forum, a group whose formation was mandated by a presidential executive order to improve labor relations within the federal government.
As Rinaldi and Gilbert begin their historic third term they are facing some significant and pressing political issues. With the Republicans regaining control of the Senate and retaining their control in the House, the attacks on federal workers have already begun.
NATCA continues to call for a more stable funding process, one that will not be affected by the shifting political winds. President Rinaldi testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. Rinaldi delivered his remarks during a hearing about the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization process and options for FAA air traffic control reform.
“NATCA looks forward to working with Congress and other stakeholders to determine a solution that protects air traffic control and secures it for future growth,” said Rinaldi.
Now the entire government is facing deeper cuts due to the Sequester beginning again in this October. This is compounded by the cuts proposed by the House and Senate budgets that would force workers to pay more for benefits, push workers into a new retirement system, hinder the FAA from continuing their modernization efforts and would put addition strain on the workforce.
“End sequester,” Rinaldi said. “It is not conducive to modernizing our system, running our day-to-day operations, and growing aviation, which is an economic engine. We need a predictable funding system so that we can enhance the NAS and continue to be the world leader.”
It will take strong leadership and strong political influence to overcome the issues facing NATCA in the near future. NATCA clearly has both.