Member Spotlight: Russ Miller
Thursday, April 26, 2012

This is the eighth in a series of articles spotlighting veteran NATCA members looking back at the first 25 years of the union leading up to the June 19, 2012, silver anniversary of NATCA's Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) certification. We are profiling one member each month from each of the 10 regions, in addition to also remembering key events that have helped shape the union and its growth as a strong advocate for its members and aviation safety.





“NATCA is my tribe. It’s who I belong to,” said Article 48 Representative for Collaboration and Fort Worth Center (ZFW) member Russ Miller. “I think of the seasons of the year not just as Christmas and Easter and Halloween but also as lobby week and Convention and Communicating for Safety. It’s part of the fabric of my family.”

Having joined as a chartering member, Miller has devoted a quarter of a century of his life to NATCA and the air traffic profession. He’s been and still is a major player in the success of the union’s goals and has held almost every local facility position a member can, from being ZFW President to being a member of the ZFW Cafeteria Committee. He is currently the NATCA lead for collaboration efforts with the FAA and also trains, coaches and supports the 10 pairs of Collaborative Workgroup Regional Coordinators. Along with those positions, he is NATCA’s sole designee on a large workgroup that updates supervisor-training materials and is a co-developer and instructor of the Leadership Experience Acceleration Project (LEAP) workshop, NATCA’s leadership training.

Miller is so steadfastly devoted to the union’s goals that in his current NATCA activities that, to ensure a better workplace for members, he spends far more time with FAA management than with his own NATCA family.

“I like it because there are a variety of challenges, but I find myself run down because I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my NATCA brothers and sisters, who look at life a lot differently than the agency,” said Miller.

Miller has always been at ZFW and therefore knows and is the history of not only the facility, but also the Southwest Region. As a trainee at ZFW in 1986, Miller said there was tension in the facility over a new union because there were people who thought unions were scary due to the PATCO firing in 1981. Many who simply believed a union was not necessary for the air traffic profession. While Texas is not a “hotbed of unionism,” according to Miller, he comes from a family that believes in unions so there was no doubt in his mind that NATCA should represent him when it got certified.

Miller said the attendance was very low at the first few local NATCA meetings, and stayed that way for several years because the facility was so large and divided and it was difficult to communicate without cell phones or emails.  

Miller said another issue for ZFW in NATCA's infancy was that the members had a chip on their shoulders due to their location. They thought being west of the Mississippi meant the rest of the union wouldn’t take them as seriously as members from facilities in Chicago, New York or DC.

“For a while, that drove some of the way we acted, not in a negative way, but I don’t think New York ever worried about what people in Texas thought about them,” said Miller.

Although it took the Southwest Region a little longer than other regions, it eventually became cohesive. Miller distinctly recalled a time during the 2000 Convention, when he was serving as ZFW Vice President; there was an important vote and a division in the house over it. The entire Southwest Region organized itself and stood together to get their voices and the issue heard.

“I remember Phil Barbarello saying something like, ‘I think you guys are starting to figure it out,’ which I took as a huge compliment,” said Miller.

While that was a proud moment for Miller, his proudest and most gratifying moment in NATCA was his time serving as ZFW President during the Imposed Work Rules (IWRs). Miller said that during the IWRs, he believed the most important thing the members could do was to keep a shared, coherent picture of the battle and not get caught up in the small issues that could fracture the membership. So after filing nearly 80,000 grievances during the fall of 2006, ZFW leadership turned its focus inwards and did things like revamp the local constitution and committees, amp up excitement for the facility holiday parties and create some social activities and year-end awards to take his members' minds off the turbulent work environment.
 
“We survived the IWRs, kept membership and union attendance high. And when it came to an end, our manager ended up leaving, not us,” said Miller.

Miller is happy to retell his history with NATCA, but he hopes that the future leaders listen carefully so they do not have to relive the history.

“It’s not a question of if the younger group will be the leaders, it’s just a question of how rough will the transition be," he said. "If they can pick up a few tips beforehand and not make the same mistakes we did, it will be easier.”.

Clearly a subject to which Miller has given a lot of thought, he had several pieces of advice for young members who will lead the union in the future. Advice included looking for someone they trust to mentor them and to make sure that mentor will listen as much as they talk. Miller also advised young members to go to local meetings, read the emails they receive, keep trying new things, take their tasks seriously, be authentic, laugh a little and most importantly, have stamina.

“Not everything you are going to do will work, but don’t give up,” said Miller.

Miller has been eligible to retire for a couple years but will stay until he is forced out, in three years. He’s thinking about going to graduate school for something completely unrelated to the air traffic profession, like social work.