<!----Enter Date Bellow *****************> Weekly Presidential Update for March 16, 2001 <!----End Enter Date Bellow *************>
Weekly Update for March 16, 2001

I could scarcely believe my eyes. I rolled in at about six thirty on Monday morning, download my email, fire up my handheld, and checked my schedule, and …there’s…nothing…on it. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Through some fluky twist of fate or karma, I’ve got a Monday with nothing scheduled. Adell is back in the office this week, and I immediately plot how to keep this information from her.

I start the morning briefing with both Adell and Ruth, and then follow up with some phone calls. I chatted with Jane reference National Airspace Redesign, and we brainstorm ways around our dilemma. I also spoke with Phil Barbarello about some productivity issues and our need to better track time spent doing Article 17 duties. Phil advised me that we had a form for doing these duties all ready to go, but it was languishing on some desk over at ATX. I’m going to look into it.

I spoke at length with Bill Peacock this morning to discuss not only the NAR MOU but the MIAWS MOU and Pay Rule 59, as well. We discussed a video we shot over at FAA Headquarters recently, and which we hope to get out to the field soon. Although the production values leave a little something to be desired, the message is the most important thing. The message, by the way, is this: We need to work collaboratively with the agency in co-managing our facilities. We need to strive for a healthy, happy environment. We need to improve our efficiency. And we need to stem the rising tide of operational errors.

This last one is very, very important to us not only from the most important safety perspective, but because it gets brought up every single day in some venue as a measurement of our inefficiency or inability to do our jobs. I would like nothing better than to shut our critics up with some decreasing operational error and operational deviation statistics, so please…for the sheer joy you would give me in whacking somebody with it…please help reduce the error and deviation rate, and please help others do the same. Most errors occur with five or less airplanes on frequency or ten or less minutes on position. Let’s be extra vigilant not only for ourselves but for each other, and see if we can’t reduce the error rate significantly.

I spent the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon bouncing between offices, working on my testimony as well as John Sheas’. We’re both scheduled on Capitol Hill this week, and Ken and Christine have been extra busy preparing our written and oral testimony and prepping us for the event.

Doug Church has been extra busy this week, working on press releases relating to our testimony, and Courtney has been coordinating our ads as well as working with Jose and Hill and Knowlton on our own little "Spring/Summer 2001" plan. I stopped in to check on their progress.

From there it was a short discussion with Susan about some pending legal issues as well as an interpretation I needed to get for a member, and then I got word that the agency would be sending over a copy of a work-in-progress MOU late this afternoon. Too late…I had made other plans, and I beat the traffic heading west as I dropped in for a quick Doctor’s appointment.

Tuesday morning was like most others, and in case you haven’t noticed I’ve developed a pretty standard routine: First one in the office at between six and six-thirty, coffee on, computer on, download, read and respond to email, check voice mail, read real mail, and start in with appointments and other substantiative work around seven-thirty or eight.

I went down to the fax machine to grab the agency’s MOU, and spent the better part of an hour combing over it. I was pleasantly surprised at the progress we’d made, and for the first time in a long time it looked like we might be able to close the deal.

At eight I had a meeting with the DOT/IG’s office to discuss the audit survey they had done on MS&S pay. They discussed their conclusions with me, or at least those they’ve reached to date, and I asked them directly about the disparity with our AOS units and their pay treatment. The IG representatives advised me that while they had spoken with many AOS people, and while they sympathized with their issues, the fact was that they did not qualify for the audit because they did not receive MS&S pay.

I asked them if they felt the AOS folks should have been included. They had formed no opinion. I advised them that my own pay people had concluded that something was amiss with the situation, but they were adamant in maintaining that AOS was not included in the audit because they didn’t get MS&S pay and they therefore couldn’t be studied. We discussed other steps they are taking, including audit verification, IG recommendations, and the fact that FAA HR is currently working on a new proposal to recify some of the MS&S disparities.

I also discussed steps we have taken with the agency to enact provisions of our Operational Error MOU. The entire world, with the exception of the FAA and NATCA, does not believe we can reduce errors in an atmosphere of trust, cooperation and learning. We have worked with the agency…actually, Phil Barbarello, Mike Blake and Brian Zilonis have worked with the agency…to implement Section 6 of the MOU, calling for risk assessment factors associated with errors. The teams are 90% complete with their work, and we hope to possibly enter a “shadow mode” sometime in early April. That will put us one month ahead of schedule on this task, and the IG was suitably impressed with our progress to date. Again…help me help you: Reduce the operational error rate.

I met with Keith Harrison concerning the STARS program, and we discussed the equipment at length. This morning’s paper brought news that Lockeed Martin would be making a bid for the Terminal modernization contract held by Raytheon, promising to deliver it faster, cheaper and better. I discussed these implications with Keith, John, and also in a phone call with Raytheon.

I had a quick meeting with Ken Montoya, Christine and John to go over his testimony, and then returned messages from Vince Polk, Ruth, and a few other folks. Don Ossinger left me a page with an update on the National Airspace Redesign activity impacts, and then I went back to my office to meet my guests.

Twice before today I had unfortunately cancelled on my visitors, so it was with apologies all around that I welcomed Don Antonucci, President of Lockeed Martin, to the NATCA World Headquarters. We discussed his company’s big news in the morning papers, as well as ATOPS, ARTSIIE, ARTSIIIE, the congressional hearing he had just been invited to crash, and several other equipment and modernization topics. Our meeting was very cordial and productive.

After the meeting I went back to the Legislative Department to get my testimony draft, then called Carol Hallett, President of the ATA, to share some salient points with her. She had recently talked to Don Carty from American who briefed her on our meeting in Dallas, and she is anxious for us to begin crafting a list of initiatives industry can stand united behind. I encouraged her to plan to include Ed Wytkind from the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL/CIO, to capture the input from 32 transportation unions.

The afternoon just flew by. Don came in around two thirty, and I looked up and it was well after six. I got into the teeth of rush hour, and I took advantage of the time to answer pages, return live calls and generally sit quietly and think.

Wednesday morning….you know the drill. Coffee. Read. Coffee. Write. Coffee. Respond.

Mike Matthews from Richmond came up to visit, bringing with him Tim and Larry from the facility to discuss their transition issues. We had a very frank discussion, and they make a compelling case. I committed to working with them to attempt to address their concerns one last time with the Agency, understanding the delicate nature of these discussions. Tim Haines sat in on this meeting to provide some historical perspective.

I met with John Shea before he went over to Capitol Hill to testify. I asked John to be true to the membership and tell the truth, and we’d all be all right in the long run. As he’s always done John did just that, and the hearing went off without a hitch. I discussed a Southern Region FOIA request issue with Mike Doherty, and passed the information along to the agency to insure they weren’t releasing controller’s names. We managed to get that squared away after some initial miscommunications.

At noon I joined Bob Taylor, Ray Thoman and Glenda Tate for lunch at the Daily Grill. We discussed labor relations issues, some general and some specific, and got to know each other a little better so we could facilitate working some of these issues. Ray was on the agency’s contract team, and he has always conducted his affairs with honesty and integrity. We may not always agree on the issues, and that’s fair, but Ray has always been good to work with.

I squared away the Southern Region snafu on the way back to the office, and then grabbed a copy of our latest commercials to take over to FAA HQ for the big video exchange. Bill and I had done a video, as I told you, and they were ready for viewing. I figured I’d show them some of the work we’re doing on the airwaves, just for comparison’s sake.

All day today, while I’ve been running here and there, Jeff Walukonis from ZJX and Tony Tisdale from the FAA have been beating each other up in one of our conference rooms over language for the Consolidated Pay Rules MOU. This MOU has more twists than a bucket of snakes, and these guys literally spent all day long on it. I stuck my head in to see how they were doing, and they looked like they came in fourth in a three man hatchet fight. I figured I’d better leave them alone.

I called Jane to alert her to a couple of hot-wire calls we had gotten from two news gathering organizations, and then I high-tailed it over to dinner with Jeff Sparrow and the Pfast Workgroup. We discussed the state of Free Flight generically and Pfast specifically over dinner, and I got a great sense of the group kismit on this issue. By eight or eight thirty or so I was longing for the road, so I said my goodbyes, walked back to the office, and played phone-tag down the interstate for forty-five minutes until I pulled up to Carr Mansion East….or should I say…our one-bedroom apartment!

Ah-ha! It figures as soon as I’ve got a system working I have to go and change it. Thursday morning it was pretty much coffee, Pay Rule 59, work on Congressional Testimony. In spite of the early hour, the email will have to wait. I worked on my remarks for the hearing, and went over language in the MOU.

The hearing was incredible. The panel of witnesses consisted of Chip Barclay from AAAE, Ed Merlis from ATA, Duane Woerth from ALPA, myself, Jane, and Ken Meade. The Chairman was in no mood for games, and he dispensed with opening remarks both by his committee and by the panel, and went right into questions. He was extraordinarily harsh on Mr. Merlis, and he was clearly irritated. Early on in the hearing he made it clear that if the aviation community could not solve it’s own problems, his committee would.

The Chair also directed each of us to come up with five ways in which we were going to improve the system. He expected them by the close of the hearing. My five were:

I would measure everything everyone else in the room did against the safety of the flying public;

I would ask Congress to hire more controllers, sooner rather than later;

I would work with the Agency to attempt to implement NAR;

I would work with the aviation community to explore separation standards; and

I would ask the committee to work with the administration to appoint me to the MAC!

I think we did very well, and I think we were able to articulate our message, rise to the defense of our friends, present a positive public image for controllers, and contribute to the public policy debate on our issues. Not bad for a morning’s work.

Back at the office I met with Susan for a briefing on legal issues in preparation for her maternity leave, and then I spent some time on the phone with Fuse discussing the NAR conundrum. By this point virtually everyone at FAA was working on some facet of this MOU, and it seemed like there was no hope of closing any deal before early April.

I went over to the FAA to see if I could inject a little enthusiasm into the process, and at 4:30 we held a meeting with Bill, myself, Mo Woods, Tim Haines, Jeff Walukonis, and special guest Pat Forrey to discuss Pay Rule 59 and NAR. I left at six pm to keep a previous engagement, but we did make some progress.

A completely insane maniac of a cab driver assisted me in being only ten minutes late for my dinner with Tim Rainey, VP for Operations, and Lorne Cass, Director, Flight Dispatch for Northwest Airlines. Both of these gentlemen, who I had met in Anchorage, are very supportive of controllers and our issues and are committed to supporting us and our goals. We discussed the topic on everyone’s lips, NAR, and we also discussed Free Flight, the need---or lack thereof---for nine regional offices, and the PATCO strike of 1981. Lorne is a fired PATCO controller. We agree on more subjects than we disagree, and I am committed to building bridges in the industry strong enough for us and our issues to stand upon.

Friday, Friday, Friday…where did the week go? I had an early morning Doctor’s appointment, and as I wrapped it up I got on the blower to Bill, Monte and Jane’s office to try to propel our negotiations to conclusion. I sensed movement on everyone’s part, so I stopped into the NATCA National Office, grabbed Kendal from Communications, and quickly typed up an amalgamation of their last NAR proposal and mine. With that in hand I went over to FAA around ten-thirty to try to get it done.

Jeff Walukonis has now been working with Tony and Pam Foss for three straight days on our behalf, and his wrists hurt from typing and all three of them were goggle-eyed. The language is only one step in the process, and armed with something to work with I meet first with Bill and then with the FAA leadership team to discuss both outstanding MOUs.

To make a long, dramatic, boring, excruciating story short, we have a deal. Bill and I signed MOUs on Consolidated Pay Rules, NAR, and TAAP. We hope to agree shortly on CRCT, Training Failures and Withdrawals, and perhaps, if we’re lucky, retroactivity.

The agency has shown good faith and more than a little collaboration in meeting us halfway on these very important issues. We have now secured procedures for orderly transitions into consolidated facilities, and agreed upon language to protect you and your families as you unlock the secrets of national airspace redesign. These MOUs are designed to work for all of us, and to prove to the naysayers both inside and outside our agency that we can co-manage our affairs responsibly.

I hope you will all work with us to make these new initiatives a success. The true measure of our success, after all, is not the number of disputes we resolve. It’s the trust, honor and integrity with which we administer our agreements. If it sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the preamble to our Contract, and it’s just as germaine two and a half years into the mission as it was in the summer of 1998. In fact…in these perilous times…maybe even more so.

I returned ten thousand phone calls after leaving the FAA at almost four. Jeff Walukonis missed the last available flight out of town to finish up for me and you, and I can’t thank him, or his sweet wife Robin, enough for putting up with us. Kevin, Don, Leslie, Blackie, Fuse, Mike, Dale, Scott, Carol, Kevin, Pat, John…I thought I’d give myself an early shove, and I suppose I did. I left the office at six-thirty.

Tomorrow it’s time to pack and head across the pond to Geneva, Switzerland for the IFATCA Conference. I will check email as regularly as my schedule allows, but don’t expect too much in the way of phone calls. I will check my messages regularly, though, and if you need me, we’ll figure out a way to make the psychic connection. I’ll be back late Friday, in DC Saturday, and then off to Las Vegas for both FacRep Training and the NEB Meeting.

Thank you all for your patience during the arduous negotiations on both NAR and Consolidated Pay Rules. I think you’ll agree the final product was worth the wait. Don’t forget to be looking for your information on our newest benefit, Long Term Disability Insurance, available for a VERY limited time with no medical exam and no questionnaire.

After interviewing a handful of candidates Ruth and I decided that the very best candidate for our Communications Director was a bright, energetic and enthusiastic young woman named Courtney Portner. You may know Courtney…she’s been with us for many years as our Publications Manager, and has been acting Director for the last several weeks. We’re very glad to promote from within, and I’m confident Courtney will bring a renewed vision to the position. We will now turn our attention to hiring someone to take over publications from Courtney, as she pivots into her new leadership role. Be sure to congratulate her if you talk to her, and help her out any way that you can.

Our Network Administrator Ben Phelps goes back to Texas to tend to sick family, ending a relationship with NATCA that predates our certification as a union. We wish Ben the best of luck. The search is on for a candidate to fill this position, as well.

You’ve all made me incredibly proud this week. Again. I will never tire of your calls, letters, email, or messages, both via pager and cell phone. Supportive, helpful, cajoling, spirited, challenging, but always from the membership and always from the heart. I hear every word. Keep up the good work, the hard work, the most important work: the airplane work. God bless you, and we’ll talk to you all very soon.

John


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