NZALPA flies the flag at NATCA Conference in Pennsylvania
NATCA represents over 14,000 aviation professionals, the vast majority of which are Controllers, with the remaining being closely related aviation occupations. The convention is held in a different location every two years and attended by over 1400 delegates from across all represented Towers, Centers, and other facilities.
NATCA is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which represents the industrial interests of over 12.5 million American workers.
The Annual NATCA Convention budget is approximately USD$2.5M, which is funded from an overall national organisation budget of USD$26M per annum. The Convention is charged with being the ‘supreme body’ of the union, and its function is to approve constitutional amendments, introduce policy, and review the overall performance of the union between conventions.
During his opening remarks, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi encouraged delegates to consider making and/or increasing their contribution to the organisation’s Political Activities Committee (PAC). The NATCA PAC has been operating for 25 years, lobbying government to further the political interests of NATCA and its members.
The PAC receives approximately USD$8.6M per election cycle, contributed by 43% of the NATCA membership, in addition to their membership dues with a maximum possible PAC contribution of USD$5k per person, per year. Every year NATCA utilises funds from the PAC for the ‘NATCA in Washington’ week, where 500 NATCA members spend a week in Washington D.C. meeting with Senators and Members of Congress to explain the current issues facing NATCA and its members, and to seek the support to make legislative changes that will help resolve the issues.
Past President of NATCA John Carr was quoted as saying “Give to the PAC like your career depends on it, because it does.”
NATCA in Washington has helped the organisation get its message across on a number of difficult issues, one of the more significant being the concept of the Federal Aviation Authority’s (FAA) ‘Privatisation’ of Air Traffic Control and the National Airspace System (NAS). The government proposed a restructure of the NAS to secure stable and reliable funding and attempt to avoid sequester furloughs such as those experienced by the FAA in the spring
of 2013. NATCA had successful input into the FAA Re-Authorization Bill which dealt with the NAS funding streams, and sought to privatise the NAS into a government-owned, not for-profit corporation along similar lines to NAVCanada.
NATCA successfully achieved the insertion of approximately 80 pages into the proposed legislation, which satisfied the majority of ‘wants and needs’ of its members and protected crucial items including pay, benefits and pensions.
The PAC continues to provide the NATCA Legislative Committee with a powerful political presence and strong influence on Capitol Hill.
The convention agenda included breakfast and lunchtime workshops for delegates, and Jim Dunn and I took the opportunity to attend several sessions including a briefing on the Global ATC Alliance and progress on the establishment of this new entity to further the Industrial interests of Air Traffic Controllers at a global level.
Other workshops we attended included Kelly Richardson’s ‘How to have a difficult conversation’ which was very well presented, and finally ‘Accident Investigation – what do you do now’. All workshops are developed in-house by NATCA volunteers and are very informative and professionally presented. There were approximately 15 different presentations on offer to allow delegates to make use of the breakfast/lunch breaks.
The NAS is currently experiencing an unprecedented staff shortage requiring controllers at some facilities to work 6:1 roster cycles and extensive rostered overtime to keep functioning at peak capacity. Controllers are rostered to work up to 300 days/year including overtime. The average controller on TRACON seemed to be earning around USD$160k per annum from the discussions I had (this estimate is not very scientific or accurate necessarily).
The number of controllers employed by the FAA is at its lowest for 30 years. At the request of the FAA, and as a result of the severe staffing shortage, NATCA is working to develop a training program to take people from areas surrounding the most critically-staffed facilities and train them for direct entry to busy approach RADAR sectors (including N90/L12 facility New York Centre). NATCA, in consultation with the FAA, is trialling a course entitled TETRA (Ten Eleven Twelve Radar Assessment) which is a pre-requisite course for off-the-street recruits to complete prior to final confirmation of
employment at the facility.
This approach involved legislative changes as the FAA believed it did not meet current legislative requirements for employment of Air Traffic Controllers. NATCA therefore also participated in writing legislation which met the objectives of the union and alleviated the FAA’s concerns.
NATCA Vice President Trish Gilbert said ”FAA thought local area hiring was illegal, so we (NATCA) changed the law to make it legal.”
This goes some way to attempting to alleviate the staffing situation and further highlights the immense benefits of having the NATCA PAC and an open-minded approach to collaboration with government.
On the professional and medical and welfare fronts, NATCA continues to be very active and extremely effective.
On the first day of the convention at approximately midday a Boeing 737, Southwest 1380, made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport after an uncontained engine failure and loss of cabin pressurisation. The NATCA CISM team provided immediate assistance to those controllers affected by this incident whilst simultaneously offering counselling and assistance to ATC’s in the San Francisco Bay Area after a SFO TWR Controller had been fatally injured in a car accident which had occurred the previous day.
NATCA’s scale and significant financial resources allow it to provide these high quality support services to members in a timely and effective fashion. Along with CISM, NATCA’s successful professional standards program continues to flourish under the leadership of Garth Koleszar and Josh Cooper. Garth’s expertise has been made available to NZALPA once again for member ATC PROSTAN training in May this year.
We are very grateful to NATCA for their support of the establishment of this program in New Zealand. NATCA has also extended an invitation for NZALPA to attend their Communicating for Safety Conference being held in Las Vegas 22-24 October 2018.
Professor Paul Clark from Penn State University also made a short presentation on ‘What makes a good effective union?’ Professor Clark identified from his research that increased member involvement requires a positive effort to change member attitudes towards their union and, if this can be achieved it has a direct and lasting positive effect on member commitment.
Professor Clark emphasised the need for unions to establish a clear set of values and highlight these values at every opportunity to the membership. – the more often members hear the values the more likely it is to increase their commitment. He also stated that a new member’s experience after joining is a key element, and having a high quality new member orientation program will have a significant positive effect on increasing member commitment and participation.
Professor Clark’s presentation was followed by a panel involving 6-8 NATCA representatives speaking on how to increase member participation. NATCA Outreach Representative Bob Obma quoted a member who recently became more involved after coming to the realisation “I’m missing out on this opportunity because I thought it was a good old boys club.” Bob had taken the time to chat with him about the positive things that NATCA does for its members which the member was previously unaware of.
Bob Obma highlighted the need for commitment by stating “you’re controlling aircraft for eight hours but you’re NATCA 24/7” and emphasised the need to include the families of members in NATCA. Some NATCA Outreach group facilities have started Facebook pages to aid inclusion of families in NATCA such as the “Texas Housewives of NATCA”. Also, family events such as the annual holiday party for families at Fort Worth Center, and also an Aviation Expo week – to allow controllers to bring their families/friends to their facility and show them what they do – all these events aimed at getting the families involved drove a higher interest in NATCA.
Overall it was a very interesting and informative convention. The next NATCA Convention will be held in Houston, 2020.
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