The Air Traffic Controller Union: What is NATCA’s Value Today?

By Robert Mark on February 5th, 2007

In case you missed it, the FAA Administrator gave a speech at the National Press Club last week to usher in the new age of “Since all the other countries in the world allow pilots over 60 to fly, we might as well too.”Blakey took questions from the audience and not surprisingly, she was hit with a few about Air Traffic Control issues.

Some were easy … “Tell us about the current negotiations between FAA and air traffic controllers.” Answer, “That contract is in place and it is time to move on,” Blakey responded. She sounded pretty certain about all of this to me.

Right now, pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and certainly air traffic controllers have been watching their professions erode to a mere shadow of what they’ve been used to as staffing numbers dwindle and pay takes a series of severe nosedives, while air traffic numbers continue to rise in the U.S.

No one would argue that even before the Bush White House opened for business, unions were taking it on the nose. Since 2001, it has obviously become much worse. 

But we can’t blame every hole the aviation industry – and in this case the one NATCA, the air traffic controllers union – have fallen into over the past decade on the Feds, especially FAA.

The unions have done some of the dirty work themselves, although I doubt that was their intention.

Last year the FAA imposed a new contract on controllers after a battle that sent the bargaining agreement to Congress for action. No one thought Congress would lift a finger and they did not, so FAA imposed the document which was their right as things sit today. The new document – can’t call it an agreement since the controllers did not agree – called for a number of pay reductions while also asking for some pretty silly things, like a controller dress code where one has not existed for 30 years.

Give a listen to two interviews NATCA’s executive vice president Paul Rinaldi gave recently and tell me I’m wrong when I say that NATCA made a mistake axing the more militant John Carr for Rinaldi. The first was at AvWeb, the other on the Ed Schultz talk radio show.

If I were still a controller, I’d be worried … dearly worried by what I heard during these interviews, especially in light of the continued hammering NATCA is taking from FAA.

Both radio hosts asked the right questions. Especially on the Schultz show however, way too many of the answers Rinaldi offers are, “I don’t know what FAA is doing,” or “I didn’t know about that,” hardly leadership in any of its most basic forms. He told audiences the union wants Congress to help them obtain a “fair shot at collective bargaining.”

Sorry Paul, I think Congress spoke last year by saying nothing for the most part. Why do you think they’ll care now?

I spoke last week to a NATCA rep at a major U.S. airport and I asked point blank, “How do you plan to keep NATCA from simply evaporating and becoming totally redundant in the face of the FAA’s current tactics?” He had no answer either and said the guys at NATCA in DC were working on it.

“Hello!” Guys, the war is almost over and you’re forces are scattered all over the place.

If NATCA doesn’t get its tail moving pretty quick to show some teeth to the American public other than TV spots that talk to the importance of air traffic controllers, as well as figure out a better set of dance steps with FAA, they’ll be talking about this controller’s union in a similar vein to PATCO.

At least PATCO took a stand. Admittedly, they lost their jobs over it, but they drew a line in the sand and stuck to it.

While I’m not telling controllers to walk out, I am telling them that right now they’re paying dues to a really nice Washington social club from what it looks like here.


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60 Responses to “The Air Traffic Controller Union: What is NATCA’s Value Today?”

  1. John Reid Says:

    You’re right. NATCA has no value. Why controllers still pay dues to, “A really nice Washington social club”, is beyond me. Its been that way for a long, long time. Nothing new.

  2. Phil Says:

    Respectfully disagree, We have no need to show teeth and posture in an agressive manner. The facts will eventually come to light as it has for so many of this President’s appointees. We will certainly be vindicated. I am proud to be a dues paying member. The core values of my peer’s are never in question. We stand for safety and integrity above all.

    The tone of your article suggests you agree we were treated improperly. I can assure you Congress feels the same. Thank you for any support you can offer.

  3. Cathy Alcorn Says:

    Certainly things haven’t been looking too rosy for air traffic controllers lately. I should know. I was a working air traffic controller for over 25 years and due to recent changes in policy and the labor relations climate that I could not live with, I retired last week.

    NATCA’s leadership changes aside, I will point out that the labor oversight deck has been stacked by the Bush administration at the FLRA, several key laws are working against fair collective bargaining, the FAA is talking a hard line and yes there are a lot of unknowns right now. It’s a terrible time to be a federal employee in general and perhaps it’s just a little bit worse to be an air traffic controller.

    Fortunately the seas might be changing favorably in NATCA’s direction. Between the new and presumably more labor friendly leadership in Congress, with many of us long time controllers voting against the imposed work rules with our feet by the high number of unanticipated retirements, by the surge in resignations of both fully qualified controllers and trainees, with key ATC facilities getting more and more staffing critical as a result, and because more than a few of the college students that the FAA planned to replace us with aren’t accepting the position due to pay issues, I predict a new and better day coming for NATCA. Eventually the mis-management of the ATC system will become too obvious and painful for Congress and the flying public to ignore and then NATCA will have their say and their day in court.

    The ideological, “run it like a business” (Enron comes to mind) shell game that the agency has been playing with our safety critical ATC system is showing stress at the seams and the first big rat has just announced that he is abandoning the sinking ship. Look for others to follow suit. We will talk again then….

    retired ANC 2/2/07

  4. Jeff Gaffney Says:

    Mr. Mark,

    With all due respect, I am sure glad you wrote this article via Public mass media info, not to mention you are flat wrong. I do hope the FAA is also lulled into the same mindset. NATCA is not going to publicly telegraph the multitude of actions being pursued to stop the demonization and demoralization of our profession as the FAA IMPOSES draconian work rules.
    400 NATCAVISTs spent 3 days last week on Capitol Hill(many on their own days off and leave) to garner support upon the controllers’ behalf, as well as all of the users of the National Airspace System.
    Jeff Gaffney
    RIC NATCA Fac. Rep.

  5. Don Brown Says:

    Interesting how two people can view the same scene and see something completely different. PATCO didn’t survive. NATCA shall.

    Survival is a prerequisite to fighting another day. The notion that NATCA (or anyone) is going to beat the U.S. government is a dangerous one — or at least foolhardy. History is littered with the bodies of those that allowed themselves to believe they (or their organizations) could.

    Victory and defeat are both temporary. A few years ago NATCA was riding high, having successfully negotiated a contract including pay. A first in government. Now times seem dark with a hostile Administration in Washington.

    This too shall pass. The key is to still be here, willing and able to fight, when it does. Russ Chew is leaving. Marion Blakey shall too. The Bush Administration will be over in 714 days.

    A contract won’t ensure NATCA’s survival. Privatization will ensure it’s destruction — along with much of the aviation industry as we in America know it.

    “What is NATCA’s Value today ?” The same as it has always been. It provides a voice to the controllers that are America’s public servants. That voice can be used for many purposes. From asking for a raise to advocating safety to raising the alarm on misguided public policy. As long as NATCA continues to use that voice wisely it will survive — and prosper.

    Don Brown
    Retired Controller
    Atlanta ARTCC 1981-2006

  6. Steve M Says:

    Until you have seen an air traffic controller in action, you have no authority to make nasty comments here towards their union.

    NATCA has an amazing track record for safety… Next time you are flying the friendly skies, do you want the controller keeping your aircraft safely separated to be well paid and treated well or do you want that controller to have a nasty atitude and allow that to affect his or her work?

    Think about that next time you are holding for weather inbound to a busy airport.

    If you want to see and hear controllers in action, check out which I have found to be quite addicting (not to mention revealing).


  7. Ron Taylor Says:

    Mr. Brown:

    I noticed by your signature line that you were hired in 1981, so it appears that you gained your employment with the FAA due to the PATCO strike.

    Not being a member of NATCA, I cannot debate its value, only each individual member can make that call. The keyword for any labor union is Solidarity.

    For over 25 years, the government and even other labor unions have tried to bury PATCO but our current status is: An Independent Labor Union, Certified by the NLRB. PATCO continues its solidarity with the strikers of 81′ and currently represents highly professional air traffic controllers in the private sector and our membership is on the rise.

    PATCO may be a small union, but we have survived and continue to fight for past, present and future air traffic controllers.

    We cannot change the history or the legacy of PATCO. Factually, many have profited from it, some have paid an exorbitant price for it, and others have learned valuable lessons in the process.

    I wish the Federal air traffic controllers, good fortune and good hunting in the coming years, but also, take note that there will be competition out there….PATCO.

    Ron Taylor

  8. Steve Catlin Says:

    Right on Ron!

    Steve Catlin

  9. BNA - Class of 81 Says:

    > While Im not telling controllers to walk out, I am telling them that right now theyre paying dues to a really nice Washington social club from what it looks like here.

    Hmmmmm…… I paid dues to PATCO for many years and did as they wanted in ’81. That worked out well…

  10. Former Patco Says:

    So NATCA members…….If I were the FAA, my response to you right now and any in the future would go something like….take that and what are you going to do about it …………STRIKE ? You and I both both know the consequences of that. But please do, I would love to see both Natca and the FAA get it again

  11. Razman Says:

    Yeah… NATCA has been doing a really “great job” of protecting its newest employees:

    1. Lower starting salary
    2. Lower salary cap
    3. Back to the 70’s dress code
    4. What happened to ‘negotiations’ with the FAA. They seemed to have slapped a forced contract on NATCA and what did NATCA do about that??? ZIPPO
    5. Ask the controllers at DIA Tower about their lunch breaks (that’s an oxymoron)

    Yup… NATCA is really getting the best working conditions for their current and future members…

  12. Terry Bobell Says:

    I love the snide shot at PATCO by an apparently gutless entity. Anonymous editorials are like farts in the wind, are they not? It’s 26 years and Ron Taylor is absolutely correct: PATCO is still here, fighting for the rights of Air Traffic Controllers. Hey NATCA “you lost the war” when you got a contract shoved down your throat. You cannot grow, therefore you will likely die. That “surviving to fight another day” mentality is a voice of defeatism, Mr. BNA. Better a life valiantly lived than one never lived at all.

  13. Bill Jordan ZBW Says:

    25 years and almost as many careers since ’81 but, I did it then and I’d do it again. Never been ashamed to admit I was part of the PATCO ’81 job action.

  14. Doug Church Says:

    Mr. Mark,

    First of all, get your facts straight: Mr. Rinaldi did not replace Mr. Carr. Mr. Patrick Forrey is our president and replaced Mr. Carr. Having gotten this most basic fact incorrect takes away what little credibility your article seeks to impart.

    As for your comments about Congress, were you not paying attention last November? The Democrats are now in control of both houses of Congress.

    This just in Mr. Mark: The Colts have won the Super Bowl!

    I won’t even begin to address the rubbish in your blog entry. The many great, experienced controllers who have responded thus far here are setting you straight.

    Finally, are you by chance the same person who visited our office a month ago and interviewed Mr. Forrey? Or is that a different Robert Mark? Please tell me the Robert Mark I know is still a practicing professional journalist with integrity.

  15. David Sapadin Says:

    Ron Taylor made a direct reference to something that seems like a lost cause concerning American unionism in general…and those of the aviation profession in particular. He used the word “solidarity.” Not making a comment here about PATCO or NATCA, but urging all to digest what the word means. If you do, there ought to be no emnity at this point between PATCO and NATCA or any other labor organization. Most especially between Controllers and PILOTS (e.g. ALPA). Enmity between ANY union and another union inherently undermines the word. But are controllers supporting pilots? Vice-versa? Mechanics? Flight Attendants? Until solidarity happens, unions, esp. governmental unions, but all unions remain at the whim of the prevailing political economy. NATCA has learned it. PATCO learned it (the hard way). United Pilots have learned it (or should have). Not even the private sector really has the “right to strike,” so long as employers have the right to replace you if you do. (NLRB vs. MacKay Radio, 1938).

  16. Mr. Bobell Says:

    Terry Bobell comment—Hey NATCA you lost the war when you got a contract shoved down your throat.—
    Sure NATCA got screwed by the imposed work rules however, they still have a job

  17. Robert Mark Says:

    For all here. Doug Church is correct. Mr. Rinaldi did not replace John Carr in reality.

    While I did get the titles of the players incorrect, my comment on the substance of the interviews and the fact that I personally wouldn’t want Congress to be the group to watch after my career, still stands.

    Let’s see, no, I was not the same person in your office and yes, sad to say, I am aware that the Colts won the SuperBowl.

    In fact, I’m still not sure if the Bears were even on the field in the 2nd half.

  18. Gail K. Says:

    Ask all the controllers fired from the New York Tracon and Phoenix who got their jobs back if this “social club” is worth it. I think they’ll answer with a resounding “YES!!”.

  19. harry erickson Says:

    Are You young pups aware that unions have been finished on or before 1981. Even walking out didn’t do it except screw up a bunch of good people
    One or two or three or four ect. unions can’t do it. Term limits, elliminate Lobbiests, No contributions for any office, everybody gets equal time on PBS 4 hrs would be more than enough to listen to these liars!!!!!
    Then ,and the most important, the American people must stand up and be a part of their own country. Maybe then we could rebuild unions, if needed.!!!

  20. Snake Says:


    Actually, NATCA took a big hit protecting the newbies. The IWR (Imposed Work Rules) are a result of NATCA refusing to throw the next generation to the wolves. Everything in the IWR was IMPOSED on the controllers, there was no negotiation. The FAA took the whole shebang to congress, and the 109th didn’t do squat with it (nor with anything else really… That was kinda their hallmark).

    So before you “Raz” NATCA for selling you out, the membership at the time got screwed under the IWR because we DIDN’T sell you out. We could be in a much better position (Been grandfathered under the old pay system) if we’d left you hanging.

    So for our standing up for the next generation, we got shafted. We got shafted for trying to protect the next generation. And in return, we get uneducated fools telling us we didn’t do enough.

    We can’t strike, we can’t get the FLRA to hear our case, we can’t get congress to act on our behalf, and until user fees were considered a serious proposition, the other alphabet groups couldn’t have cared less when we tried to warn them that they were next. So tell me, what exactly would you have liked us to have done for you?

    How about saying “Thanks for sticking up for me when no one else will.”

    By the way, If I transfer from my present station (a low level tower) to ATL, DFW, MIA, ZTL or any other level 12 facility, I’ll take a $3,000 pay cut for working twice as hard. I’m 27, have 5 years in the agency, and have reached the highest level of pay I’ll ever see under the IWR. And I was one who strongly argued that we cannot accept a B scale, because I remembered all too well what it was like waiting for the call and how hard it was to make ends meet as a new hire. That position that NATCA took cost us dearly. It was done to attempt to protect the next generation.

    So what would you have had us do Raz? Sell out the next generation? Go on strike and have the union demolished and decertified like PATCO? Set the labor movement back another 20 years?

    We did what the law allows, and got ZERO support from the rest of the unions and trade groups out there. We got a little support from some in congress, but without the support of the rest of the aviation industry, we got screwed. And now it’s happening to the other groups. Welcome to the party AOPA/NBAA/EAA and all the aviation trade unions. We tried to warn you, but no one listened.

  21. Dave Berrang Says:

    Natca would not agree to a 2 tier work scale and that is the bottom line about the negotiations. The FAA imposed what it wanted without regard for Natca. Mr. Taylor needs to realize that Natca is much more commited and stronger than Patco was internally. We have our jobs and we continue to fight the FAA every day and on every front. I know as I am the Fac-Rep at RNO ATCT/Tracon. Mr. Taylor, your attack on someone who was hired in 1981 is a mute point as you knew then as we know now that every employee signs an agreement not to strike against the goverment. You sir are out of line!

  22. Rob Mark Says:


    I think there are some serious words to consider in Snake’s comments here and relates to what Ron Taylor mentioned earlier about solidarity and David about not facing one union off against another.

    There was little support from pilots for controllers in 81 and I doubt there is much now. Do they respect the job you do … absolutely. Will pilots stick their jobs on the line for you … doubt it.

    Will Congress stick up for your career? I doubt it, but I’d sincerely like one of you to prove me wrong on this.

    On the solidarity issue again, not long ago a major airline demanded that union flight attendants train their non-union replacements – to cover a potential strike – and the flight attendants did it … and the pilots let it happen as well.

    That’s the lack of solidarity I think we’re reading about here.

    Is the union movement to blame for this kind of ambivalence from other union members or are unions simply the recipients of people from the new world order?

    The big question is what will PATCO or NATCA or ALPA or anyone else in this industry do to prevent the kind of exploitation of their members that FAA has displayed for NATCA members in the past few years?

  23. Calvin Phillips Says:

    I am an Air Traffic Controller in Atlanta Center. I am not going to debate NATCA vs. PATCO. It appears NATCA learned from the mistake of PATCO. I am a first time reader of this journalist (pilot?). It is obvious that his knowledge of our current plight is limited.

    In response to a few of your statements:

    “Sorry Paul, I think Congress spoke last year by saying nothing for the most part. Why do you think theyll care now?”

    In 2006, Congressman LaTourette led the fight to establish basic fairness and equity to FAA/union negotiations. He understood that a fairly negotiated and ratified contract would provide consistency and stability to the national airspace system, thereby ensuring the safety and security of the flying public.

    LaTourette and his bills many supporters courageously and enthusiastically took to the House floor on June 6, 2006, during debate. LaTourette was especially critical of FAA Administrator Marion Blakeys move to impose work rules before the vote: I am a pretty calm guy, but I really think that she just took her finger and stuck it in the eye of 268 members of this House (who co-sponsored the Kelly-Costello bill) and 75 of them happen to be Republican, 75 of them happen to be members of this Presidents party. I am insulted.

    Maybe this is “nothing for the most part” to you, but politically it is a pretty big deal. Now with a Democratic majority this will certainly be fixed.

    “If NATCA doesnt get its tail moving pretty quick to show some teeth to the American public other than TV spots that talk to the importance of air traffic controllers, as well as figure out a better set of dance steps with FAA, theyll be talking about this controllers union in a similar vein to PATCO.”

    I am not really sure what Mr. Marks meant by this. Since he was Airbus Aerospace Journalist of the Year in 2004 I am sure he meant something. Wagging our tail to show some teeth to the American public? I don’t understand what this will accomplish but maybe if he will explain we can try it.

    Hello! Guys, the war is almost over and youre forces are scattered all over the place.”

    Last week we had over 400 activists in Washington for “NATCA in Washington”, our lobby week. Most of these union members were on their days off or had to take annual leave to attend. You will soon see this war is definitely not close to being over. You underestimate controllers’. You underestimate NATCA. You could probably tell me a thing or two about an airplane, or how to conjugate a verb, but you sir really don’t know what you are talking about here.

    I invite you to come to Atlanta Center to witness the job we do and the conditions we are being forced to do them in. Black mold throughout our building, leaks in our ceiling so bad that we have to use umbrellas indoors to keep the rain off the radar consoles (electrical equipment and water don’t mix too well). Managers accusing controllers of being homosexual because they don’t like the color of their “business casual” clothing. The FAA is no longer bound by law, rules, regulations, policy, or procedures that were implemented to protect safety as well as human rights.

    As the NATCA Vice President at one of the largest facilities in the FAA, I would welcome you to walk a mile in my shoes and then tell everyone what kind of “social club” we are running.

    Calvin Phillips
    ZTL NATCA Local VP

  24. Wally P Says:

    First of all the FAA had no intention of ever reaching an agreement with Natca. Marion Blakey had a repubican congress that bascially sat back and let her impose work rules on the union. With the Democrats in power I believe you will see the FAA come back to the table, thats always what Natca wanted. I believe the FAA is going to feel the heat here soon, maybe Russ Chew sees that and got out when he can.

  25. Ron Taylor Says:

    Mr Berrang,

    There was no attack by me on Mr Brown but only to establish by his own admission, that he was hired during the PATCO strike. If the subject matter is going to be about labor unions and values, then I think you would agree that all credentials should be on the table. I was fired in 81 along 11,541 other PATCO strikers and I think we more than established our union solidarity at that moment in time, and in the present tense.

    To say that NATCA is more committed and stronger than PATCO is a spin to avoid the real issue. PATCO fought the FAA for years on many fronts prior to the strike with great success. The final act was the hard nose approach forced by the Reagan administration, and it was the rank and file that made the call to walk out because the employer refused to negotiate. We lost our jobs and many were thrown in jail, while others crossed the line to replace us.

    PATCO rank and file union members paid the ultimate price that any labor union can, whether the action was legal or not. That sir is a labor union, and that show of solidarity is something that only a few will ever understand or experience.

    I wish you well

    Ron Taylor

  26. Razman Says:


    Shove the “We cant strike, we cant get the FLRA to hear our case, we cant get congress to act on our behalf, and until user fees were considered a serious proposition, the other alphabet groups couldnt have cared less when we tried to warn them that they were next. So tell me, what exactly would you have liked us to have done for you?” where the sun don’t shine.

    How do you think NATCA got the primo deal right after 81′? It was because PATCO did all of the things you said that you can’t do now because of “the law”. That is a cop-out and you know it. There are 11,500 ex-controllers that gave up their livelihood and well-being so you can enjoy the benefits that you are getting now, and don’t even think that you would have had those benefits without the sacrifice of PATCO. You “can’t” do the things you mentioned in your post because NATCA doesn’t want to rock the boat and upset anybody. Yes, you still have your jobs, but at what price. This is a case where a dog is being pushed into a corner, and then rolls over and dies. You cannot be ‘forced’ into something you really don’t want to do. There are always other options. They may not be pretty, but you do have a choice.

  27. Robert Mark Says:


    My goal in raising this entire issue about NATCA was simple and some of you have been good enough to share facts and figures we might not have heard anywhere else.

    What I meant by my statement about seeing NATCA getting itself moving is that from a public relations standpoint, the union LOOKS like it is powerless against FAA thanks to the contract they jammed down controller’s throats, as well as that silly dress code they organized.

    That dress code was institutued by FAA to tweak your noses and prove they are still the boss.

    Again, that is how it LOOKS to some of us who don’t work for the agency.

    And I will be the first to admit that the way it looks, may not necessarily reflect the reality of what is really happening, some of which Calvin mentioned today.

    Maybe all of the work to bring these issues to Congress will have a different affect this time … and honestly, I hope it does.

    Again, I simply don’t have a great deal of faith in Congress after the past few sessions, but things may well change this time.

    But let’s separate the personal comments from the PR side of the debate.

    To many folks in the industry, NATCA appears powerless right now. This entire discussion is all about wanting to see some concrete results that prove otherwise and nothing more.

    I’m actually not attempting to demean the work NATCA members are trying to do here believe it or not. But I do disagree with what it LOOKS like from the outside.

    Talking about the future is a little different than actually seeing things begin to change. Let’s see if I’m still singing the same tune a month or two after the NATCA day on the hill.

    And yes, NATCA did learn many things from PATCO, I think.

    But in the end, the Feds can push pretty hard. No matter how many wins NATCA has had in the past, they’re going to need some new ones after the events of 2006.

  28. Bill South Says:

    I controlled the Aluminum Overcast for 26 years in towers and in Jacksonville, Center. During my tenure as PATCO board chairman I met with virtually every air traffic controller in the nation and I must admit solidarity wan’t always our strength. In 1970, when our first “strike” happened (we called it a sickout, but it was a strike). Our problem was, many of our fellow controllers were afraid of Big Brother, whose lair was 800 Independence Avenue Washington, DC.
    Some were convinced air traffic control was all they had in their employment bags despite our having lawyers, architects and even one medical doctor in our midst.
    We had no solidarity between ATC facilities. If Ohare failed, we had no backup to fill in the gap. If New York Common IFR Room failed, it had no backup. Worse, we had no experience on Capitol Hill to read political history and to teach us how things worked on The Hill. We sought advice from a man whose voice Nixon feared. The man was Jesse Calhoon, the then-president of the union representing seagoing traffic under U.S. flags. When Calhoon whispered, Nixon cringed. Through captains of U.S. ships, Calhoon controlled the chess boards we called the Atlantic and the Pacific.
    He sent some of our PATCO leaders to Harvard to learn labor negotiations techniques to the point where we could sit across the table from a negotiator for the FAA or other
    Adminstration muckety-muck from any branch and know in what the other side was going to propose before the proposer proposed it!
    We discovered we had political clout that had only to be developed. We learned the wisdom of solidarity We learned how to draw from other unions’ solidarity, but we learned, too
    that, in some cases, we had to rely on our own determination and guile to whip the opposition without pity. We learned to use the ‘LBJ System,’ which was to grab the lapel of an antagonist and let him know that you knew he was sleeping with his secretary and if he didn’t want his wife to find out, he had to adopt our way of thinking. It was the way things were done on Capitol Hill. It worked for us.
    Somewhere along the way, we lost our groove and the toughness to follow through on our LBJ technique.
    NATCA seems to have skipped the step with the
    lapels. They seem to have lapsed into thinking they can start at the top or expect some political hack in lace panties will do their lapel
    grabbing for them. You can’t skip steps in labor matters and expect to win even half the time. It has never happened and it’s not going to happen now.
    The labor arena is not for the faint hearted. NATCA needs a Jesse Calhoon to show them how to grab lapels and “invite” the antogonists to have a seat. Serve tea and a couple of crumpets, but let the antagonist know he must ask for sugar if he expects to sweeten his beverage.

    Bill South
    Former National Board Chairman

  29. dj clarke Says:

    Imagine…all this talk about union solidarity and its value.
    The American labor movement died when organized labor decided it was OK to cross a picket line as long as you were selective about it.
    The coup de grace came when Lane Kirkland welcomed a group of SCABS into the AFL-CIO

  30. Robert Mark Says:


    What a response. Thanks for that.

    I too have watched labor’s missteps. NATCA is the example we’re talking about right here and right now, but there have been many more, like the differences between ALPA talk and the way they actually deal with regional pilots. Sources tell me that is one of the reasons ALPA’s old president was voted out.

    My bias leans more to that LBJ style you mentioned. Perhaps that doesn’t work or perhaps the world thinks that kind of thing is a bit too Jimmy Hoffa like.

    But someone inside labor had better be thinking of what the next step is beside asking Congress for help.

    Without some leverage on the FAA somewhere to help them balance the debate, I think NATCA is going to have some cold, dark days ahead.

  31. Capt. Brian Power-Waters Says:

    I am trying to acess your sight. I joined yesterday, and received notificationj from you that all was ok, what am I doing wrong?

  32. Eric Hughes Says:

    dj clarke, as a controller I was hired in 1988 into a unionized workforce and I joined that union. NATCA supported the repeal of the ban on the rehiring of the PATCO controllers. I work with a couple of individuals who were fired PATCO controllers and are now NATCA members. Do you consider these fired PATCO controllers SCABS because they were rehired?

  33. dj clarke Says:

    Eric Hughes,
    In answer to your question..NO. Nor do I consider you a scab. Nevertheless what remains a fact is NATCA was founded by scabs who crossed the picket line Aug.’81.
    Many of them were actually PATCO members who had voted to strike and then had a change of heart.

  34. Kenneth Nelson, Sr. Says:

    I am loving it! The skillet calling the kettle black, and the wiener trying not to be roasted–eventhough the flames are licking at his butt!! I am a member of the Class of ’81 and I did not get the word in 1993 re the recall, and I do not like–I am down right pissed at the way the government has treated NATCA this late in the game after the controllers pulled the government out of the aviation safety fire in 1981.

    To establish a UNION and then not act like one, is a travesty. NATCA to a certain degree helped the government work its magic in LMRelations by not asking for controller benefit gains as the years passed and allowed the government to go for broke the controller mandate (contract?) last year.

    I love air traffic controllers–but the FAA and NATCA early on believed that we were total and complete rabble rousers and some made it known that they would not work with PATCO controllers and the government listened.

    Congress will listen–but what can they do with the budget as far out of kilter as the war in Iraq has thrown it? Not much! User fees must be instituted now and the user can not expect the government to give away one of the most valued modes of transportation that the country has. God won’t let me say I told you so, but NATCA, you had better get the Congress to see that pilots don’t work as many hours a month as you guys do (pilots 40?-controllers 160?), and who gets the chips? Pilots can fly all that technology until what age? 65? You have to quit controlling by 60? Well, since you don’t have control by wire technology maybe that is a good thing?

    There are a few controllers left that could benefit the system with old school training and some value based on the case by case class2 physicals. There are some out there close to retirement who don’t really give a rats butt and they are going to go and tell the government to bite a pair of boxers.

    Something has got to give. NATCA don’t knock the group that got you there, PATCO. PATCO, don’t be so hard on the new kids on the block, they are only 25 and they knew everything until they got that contract shoved down there throat.

    NATCA–it ain’t all that great being you is it? You still don’t know why Mom (FAA) and Daddy (GWBush) are treating you like that. Beverly Hills children don’t understand why mommy and daddy get tired of the open checkbook. Wake up and smell the coffee–don’t let it spill in your lap, you know it is hot!!!

    I wish there was some way for the industry to pressure the FAA/DOT/White House to be reasonable, but we don’t control cargo container ships on the high seas???

    Ken Nelson
    PATCO Class of ’81
    Local 559

  35. Todd Says:

    Robert Mark: “…the fact that I personally wouldnt want Congress to be the group to watch after my career, still stands.”

    Ultimately, every federal employee stands where you don’t want to.

    On the Don Brown as a scab issue…

    PATCO did a lot of good for its members. It took a fatal misstep. While unfortunate, that is the responsibility of PATCO and its members. By proposing that no one should have ‘crossed the line’ after all striking members were fired, you are proposing leaving the US without a working ATC system in perpetuity. That is… unrealistic at best.

    Compare the PATCO and NATCA contracts. Talk to todays controllers. I don’t know any who belittle the accomplishments or minimize the sacrifice of PATCO controllers. I am a controller and I have had the privilege to work with several who were rehired during the Clinton era. They are honored for all they did, while we all acknowledge that it was, ultimately, a mistake to strike.

    Todd Kerekes

  36. cyras21 Says:


    Are you gonna walk a picket line? You’ve been talking the talk so let’s walk the walk. Stand up and lead or shut-up.

  37. Ernest Robinson Jr. Says:

    I was a Patco member who got fired in 1981. I am also a Natca member who got rehired in 1998. I would just like to set the record straight on this picket line issue.
    If the pilot’s and the controllers who did, had not crossed the picket lines on that fateful August morning I believe that The STRIKE would have been over in a matter of hours.
    As it stands, most hindsight observers somehow seem to think that the air traffic controllers were fired on the first day of the strike. The actual firings did not happen until two days later, but everyone crossed those picket lines with a zeal and an excitement not unlike that seen at an amusement park or an arcade. I did not realize it then, but what I was witnessing was the final nail being driven into the coffin of what once was Organized Labor in America.
    I refuse to sit back and point fingers, call names, pontificate on the relative merits of who was wrong or right, or any of those other self defeating postures at this point.
    What I will do is support the present NATCA leadership to the best of my ability. Do my job as best I can and try to refrain from voicing opions on which I have no knowledge.
    The ’81’ strike broke my heart. We were not wrong. What about all those who crossed the picket lines? I will not call them anything. I will however say that I believe that no matter how many times they knock me down I will keep on gettin’ up.
    Patco forever, Good luck NATCA we have to stay strong, and until more are willing to stand up for something instead of laying down for anything; our lot is what it is.
    Ernest Robinson
    Philly Tower

  38. timezone Says:

    What does the above have to do with the value of natca? Does the afl consider strikebreakers good for the labor movement, and if so why are their numbers dropping, and why have others have dis affiliated with them. (Change to win) What is the foundation of the FAA union? What power do they really have? They signed off with Pres Reagan for a job so what is the complaint.

    Show me the value .

  39. Rick Radar Says:

    I have been sitting back and reading all of the banter about PATCO and NATCA and who is better. What BS. I was and am a member of both. Yes I was one of those fired strikers from 1981. Contrary to popular belief I did not shrivel up and die. I did not go to work for McDonalds. I did work my way up to a Vice President for a major moving company. Eighteen years later I re-applied and was hired back into the FAA at a Level 12 facility. I joined NATCA, not because I like those guys but because I am UNION and it was the right thing to do. I was told by my new union brothers that I was too old to do the job. Even though I was not much older that the ones that replaced me in 1981. I was called “old PATCO controller” among other things. In the end I recertified while I saw many of my new name calling “brothers” wash out and sent back to their old facilities. So much for the old controller garbage.
    With that said it makes me laugh when I hear these new brothers put down the old controller union. That is why this new UNION of mine is where it at with the IWR, readjusted pay, new dress code that I have not seen since 1977, a leave program that was ment for children, and on and on. NO SOLIDARITY. All for me and the hell with everyone else. That seems to be the rank and file NATCA battle cry since I have returned. And that is why, with this latest tactic by the FAA, we are failing. NO SOLIDARITY. Union brothers berating other union brothers for going on strike. NO SOLIDARITY. Union brothers despising other union brothers for going on strike for better conditions and then despising their return to the profession. NO SOLIDARITY.

  40. VRob Says:

    It is necessary to highlight politics in this discussion.. our misguided republican friends might not enjoy hearing this, but truth be told, the FAA/NATCA “nontract” is the result of the Republican Party’s obsession with power & money-

    Controllers, as many others, are clearly victims of our radical right-wing, pro-business, anti-labor government that has been out-of-control since it stole the white house in 2000 & gained a virtual dictatorship by ruling all three branches of our federal government. They are masters at propaganda and collusion- they talk about their war on terror, when they’re most concerned with their covert war on labor- Republican politicians know that their power is derived from corporations who, in exchange for behind the scenes access to developing the political agenda, provide enormous & unmatchable financial resources (called campaign contributions, though in most civilized nations, known as bribes). In return, corporate benefactors expect them to beat back labor (to help keep down costs, increase productivity & continually grow profits to feed wall street’s hunger for earnings growth that might otherwise stagnate). The GOP has been happy to comply, since labor has generally sided with the Democrats and the less they earn, the less stable their jobs, the less they or their unions can lend financial aid to political candidates. The GOP, particularly Dick Cheney, George Bush Sr., the Carlysle Group, the Heritage Foundation, the Bohemian Club- Billionaires all, they are very good at identifying targets, such as ALPA & NATCA, consulting arrogant, spiteful and misguided individuals such as Frank Lorenzo and Joe Miniace, then using devious tactics to get what they want, making sure that one of their corporate welfare recipients profits along the way. They’re mean-spirited, powerful, resourceful, have plenty of time on their hands & are committed, thinking they’re doing the right thing for America by ensuring that business prospers and the unions (& Democrats) stay out of the way. They detested pro-people leaders Bill Clinton & Jane Garvey, who in rewarding controllers with a great contract in 1998, made them a primary GOP target- NATCA (nor ALPA) never had a chance, & probably won’t until the Dems again gain control of both congress and the white house.

    The American public unfortunately doesn’t care, or doesn’t have the time, resources to care. Heck, a third of them are illegal immigrants who are actually LOVED by the GOP because they dilute the labor force so much it keeps up supply of raw labor, keeps down wages, benefits & union membership. Most Americans aren’t wise enough to realize the long-term impact of their short-term economic decisions- be it honoring a (legal) picket line, supporting union-busting outfits like Walmart, Marriott, Coors & Jetblue, or not finding the time to raise their voice when politicians & their appointees find truely devious ways to rape the pay or working conditions of their friends & neighbors. Making matters worse, its hard to speak up- the right has labeled the media as “liberal”, though most now know that is a smokescreen- most television, radio & media are carefully ruled by the right (ala, Fox, Clear Channel, Disney/ABC)- they micromanage the content & tone- so its unusual to see labor leaders even make it to press, or if they do, somebody who has listened to too much Rush Limbaugh argues with you. Worse, the Republicans cleverly shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class & we find ourselves with insufficient income to pay the inflated bills that the fed says statistically haven’t inflated, many of us without direct pensions or health care, then we try to self-finance our retirements, gambling what little we have left on 401k “plans” that invest in stocks of the very same companies that finance those who delight in taking so much away from us. We’re in big trouble, fellow Americans.

  41. Gary Kerr Says:

    Very interesting comments throughout.

    But let’s face it, the Boston Tea Party wasn’t a social event for the well-to-do.

    The 1961 Freedom Riders weren’t looking for, and they certainly didn’t get, “a free ride.”

    Yes, I know, things didn’t work out too well for the Confederates who fired the first shots on Fort Sumter, nor did things work out well for Admiral Yamamoto when he decided to drop a few bombs and torpedoes on Pearl Harbor. The Pullman strike of 1984 didn’t go exactly as planned either.

    History usually favors the winning side in a conflict, so my point isn’t to assign a “Right” and a “Wrong” label to any past conflict, but rather to point out that few really big or important changes occur without conflict.

    That’s a bummer.

  42. Bill South Says:

    Haynes Johnson, a best-selling American writer who has guested on Face The Nation and Meet The Press several times, wrote in his book “Sleepwalking Through History,” about how Texas oil barons celebrated Bonzo’s 1980 presidential win about the petroleum industry-wide fete in Dallas in post-election November. The room was shouder to shoulder with executives and Republican campaign contributors. At the center was a gigantic 10-foot cake replica of the White House. The icing was adorned with a single decorative word: “Ours.”
    The proclamation still applies. Democrats have tried and tried to wipe the inscription from the cake, but the Republican millionaires in congress have (so far) been unable to wrest control of the icing from Dick (Before he Dicks You) Cheney’s Halliburton-ites and his pupil, G.W. Bush & Company’s oily pals.
    Will 1980 be with us forever?

  43. Jetwhine » Blog Archive » Will Comair Pilots Strike This Time? Says:

    […] Is A union better than NO union? If you think so, how do you carve out the parts of collective bargaining you agree with fro […]

  44. Jetwhine » Blog Archive » Union or Non-Union? Says:

    […] During the recentdiscussion on Jetwhine about the air traffic controller’s union,NATCA, a point was made that although NATCA has stumbled a bit recently, A union is better than NO union. […]

  45. Razman Says:


    I’ve already walked the walk and talked the talk. I was a proud PATCO local President and National officer that walked the walk on the picket line in 81′. I don’t know why you smart boys haven’t figured that out yet. I am not, nor will I ever become a non-union (NATCA) member. I cannot fathom how anyone would pay 1.5% of a high salary for the services rendered.

    I guess I have validated that I stood up and led, so I don’t have to “shut up”. I’ve paid more dues for your current benefits than you ever will.

    BTW, You’re welcome.


    # cyras21 Says:
    February 7th, 2007 at 8:14 pm


    Are you gonna walk a picket line? Youve been talking the talk so lets walk the walk. Stand up and lead or shut-up.

  46. Gerald O'Brien Says:

    To Bill South and VRob…..amen amen amen!
    …another ’81 veteran

  47. Cleveland Thornton III Says:

    NOTHING IS PERFECT or “guaranteed to work”. For 20+ years, I tried to deal with loosing air traffic control. My call to come back, was from a rude and vague person and she just bluntly asked me, “Do you want to come back to air traffic control?” I said, “I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE… I DON’T APPRECIATE YOUR FUCKING JOKE…” and I hung up the phone. As it turned out… her call was legitimate (regardless her manner…) AND NOW, I’ve been back for 7 years: tonight is 2-18-2007.

    PEOPLE… ya need to stop and deal with the now. My heart was/is PATCO. My current membership is… NATCA. I made my own decisions in 1981 and I feel good about me. I’m back… I still feel good about me and I’M A NATCA MEMBER. I going to rejoin PATCO.

    I’m 53 and I’m going to SOCAL in June of this year bcoz, I love this job.

    Read between my lines and… work for truth. UNIONS have an obligation to protect it’s members. I see no reason for PATCO and NATCA to fight… because both have made and continue to make mistakes.

    THE TRUTH IS… any union without “a right to strike” is a union with limited strength. FIGHT FOR THAT… (smile), and pursue your agendas REMEMBERING… PATCO/NATCA is of the same family.


  48. RJ Says:


    You made your decision years ago and you have had to live with it. I can’t help that you’re pissed at the world for your mistake…… You may have talked the talk and walked the walk, but try to be smarter in the future.

    Proud NATCA Member!

  49. Ron Taylor Says:


    Guess what you have said only proves the point about NATCA and its history to the labor movement.

    In your words “Proud NATCA Member”. Now even you should be thinking smarter about what you have just said. PATCO strikers are still locked out and discriminated against in hiring by the FAA, after more than fourteen years. Does that make you a proud union member?

    Proud of what?

    Ron Taylor

    An Independent Labor Union
    Certified by the NLRB

  50. On the Record: An Interview with Former NATCA President John Carr - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinon Says:

    […] Since there is little motivation to reopen talks and since NATCA has essentially no power to make the agency listen to anything they have to say, I asked Carr something I was pummeled for asking here on Jetwhine six months ago. Why does NATCA exi…   […]

  51. The FAA Follies » Blog Archive Says:

    […] of the FAA, more people are questioning the need for NATCA. This guy asked why NATCA even exists back in February. From his blog: I spoke last week to a NATCA rep at a major U.S. airport and I […]

  52. Razman Says:


    I am a lot smarter since I went back to college right after the strike and got into computers and networking. I am now making a lot more than I would have made as a controller with no weekends, holidays or night shifts so getting smart is not the issue here. Do you think getting porked by the FAA on a daily basis is smart? If you are content with that lifestyle than I suggest you look up the definition of “smart”.


  53. Tribe Says:

    I’m getting ready to test to join the ATC career. I’ve read a lot of the above comments. As one who doesn’t know too much about the Union(s) operation, my question is do I join or not join a Union? Where can i find some info?

  54. Oscar G Level 1 Says:

    xxxxing controllers ARE THE PROBLEM. xxxxing NATCA represents the problem. Can you say ‘automation’?

  55. Razman Says:


    If you enjoy throwing away 1.5% of your salary into a bit bucket, go ahead and join the union. They will do absolutely nothing for you, as proven by the lastest FAA imposed (forced) contract. So, if you like throwing your money away to a union (notice I didn’t capitalize) that accepts dual pay bands for the same job (what kind of real union would sit back for that), then go ahead and join. Just remember, your salary will be a lot less than the person working next to you performing the same function if he is grandfathered under the old contract. Yeah, great union.

  56. sue Says:

    I can’t imagine what takes it is stay in a union. It just seems to me that unions are in the loosing end.

  57. Angels 20 Says:

    NATCA is of NO VALUE at all. NATCA actions cause the public to view controllers as no more talented than Walmart employees. In fact, I would rather work, union free, for Walmart, that be a NATCA member. NATCA is corrupt and useless.

  58. Razman Says:

    At least someone else is seeing the light re NATCA. When you pay dues to a Union ($1,800 per year for a controller making $120,000) you expect to see some benefits from your investment. The FAA can tell NATCA to go pound sand and all NATCA and do is say “How hard”. What else can they do… go on strike?

  59. rick Says:

    as for the guy who just tested for being a controller and a union, on a large scale the union hasn’t done what we would want them to do getting this contract shoved down there throat but you have to think of it on a smaller level too to decide if you want to join.
    the union rep is going to help you ou when you get to your facility with the different paperwork and forms you need to fill out as well as give you some suggestions for your retirement and stuff of that nature. if you have a deal or have some issues with training he is going to stand up for you and get you the extra time you need for training and keep you from getting the boot to your rear end at the first sign of trouble. also if you want to move to another facility later then being in the union means you have someone you can call to sorta grease the machine at the new facility so you can try to get a transfer moving.

    I’m not particularly happy with what the union has done to the payscale, I can say that I work at a tower and the teachers in the school across the streer make more, and will continue to make more money than me even after I’m certified. even though people seem to think tearchers don’t make enough, ha.

    you should most likely join the union, at least at first, and then if you decide they aren’t doing enough for you leave as opposed to not joining than joining later, at least thats my opinion

  60. Affiliatedotcom Says:

    What does the above need to do with the value of natca? Does the afl contemplate strikebreakers good for the labor movement, and if so why are their numbers dropping, and why have others have dis affiliated with them. (Change to win) What will be the foundation of the FAA union? What power do they genuinely have? They signed off with Pres Reagan for a job so what may be the complaint.

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