Young Controllers Learn Value of Union Involvement
Thursday, June 07, 2012

Less than three years ago, Peter LeFevre (pictured at left with his wife Shelley) was still months away from even heading to Oklahoma City for FAA controller training. But in the short time since then, he has taken on an active role at his facility, and is a prime example of how easy it is for even the newest controllers to get involved in NATCA.

LeFevre is a controller at Washington-Dulles (IAD), which is both 100 percent union and located just 30 miles from NATCA’s national office. He said the proximity of the airport to the nation’s capital and also the heavy union presence in the facility spurred him to get involved.  

He is now IAD’s NATCA Reloaded representative, and has been involved with legislative outreach, including attending NATCA in Washington.  

“It was clear from the beginning that it was important to get involved in NATCA, because they do such a great job representing us,” LeFevre said. “Before I was even hired, I remember reading about labor disputes, and I knew the union helped negotiate working conditions I benefit from, and I didn’t want to take that for granted.”

LeFevre took a slightly unusual path to being a controller; he has no family lineage in the business and never went to CTI School or the military. Rather, he was working in sales in 2008 as the economy began to crater and was looking for a career change.  

He came across the FAA website, filled out the application on a whim, and ultimately started work at the tower in early 2010. When he finally got to Dulles, he said he was impressed with how involved so many people there were with various union issues.

“I got lucky because they opened the hiring pool up to the general public out of necessity,” LeFevre said of the FAA. “And when I started, I found that, because of the closeness to D.C. and just the people there, that there were always opportunities to volunteer and get involved.”

Dulles facility representative Scott Starkey said the makeup of the workforce is going to get much younger in the coming decade, mirroring a larger trend across the country. Starkey said his facility has a strong, young core of active members, and he is excited about the future NATCA leaders who could emerge from Dulles in the way that current union President Paul Rinaldi did.

“We have a younger generation tutoring another young generation,” he said. “So in a few years, a decade, we’re going to have a facility full of leaders and that’s really exciting.”

Starkey also praised Rinaldi’s continued involvement at the tower, where he worked prior to being elected as the union’s sixth Executive Vice President. He said Rinaldi still returns often for events, and speaks to the younger controllers about becoming involved.

“When guys see Paul and they hear him talk so well about the union and how important it is, it’s not that hard to get them involved,” Starkey said.

Andy Lewis, a controller in Rochester who serves on the NATCA Reloaded Committee, said LeFevre has a promising future in the union. He said LeFevre is very articulate and has a knack for taking initiative, but that controllers of all stripes can get involved in a number of ways.

Lewis added that it has always been easy for younger, more “Type A” controllers to get involved early in their tenures, but that events like NATCA in Washington, Reloaded, and various facility work groups make it easy for anyone who wants a role to be able to have one.

“It’s always easy to get involved if you have that ‘joiner gene’ and you push yourself in,” Lewis said. “But we have made it easier for people to get involved on a wide scale; all it takes is going to the fac rep and saying ‘what can I do, how can I help?’”

LeFevre said that as older controllers leave the organization, there are going to be a lot of open opportunities for involvement in facilities across the country.  

“The union is really important for us as workers,” LeFevre said. “It’s really important to get involved in any way you can, and if you want to, you’ll certainly be able to.”