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Article 65 Controller Performance Rights

This installment of NATCA’s Know Your Rights Series will explain the right of an employee to voice professional disagreement with a manager under Article 65 of the CBA. Article 65 exists in both the Red Book 2010 ATC contract and the Black Book 2007 engineers’ contract, but is slightly different in each. Article 65 also exists in other CBAs between NATCA and the FAA, as well as the Federal Contract Tower Employers (as Article 30 for RVA and 31 for Midwest). This article will address the application of the Controller Performance article in a general manner. Contact your local union representative, RVP or National LR rep for more information.

Article 65 Red Book (ATC) and FCT Towers

In the context of air traffic control (ATC), Article 65 (30 or 31 for FCT controllers) provides a powerful protection for controllers on a day-to-day basis. Controlling traffic is a demanding and stressful job, and any operational or other errors can be potentially deadly. Many controllers know first hand or have witnessed the results of an operational error: NTSB investigations, management inquiries, and sometimes discipline may result.

Article 65 provides that, whenever a controller is given an instruction by a supervisor or other management representative, and the controller believes that instruction to be in error or otherwise disagrees with it, the controller will comply with the order but management assumes all responsibility for the decision. Article 65 does not provide the controller with the right to refuse an instruction or order from management. Instead, it clearly designates that responsibility for a decision lays with management.

A classic example of a disagreement in the ATC context would be where a front-line supervisor orders a controller to direct traffic in a particular manner such as dictating heading, altitude, etc. The controller disagrees with the supervisor’s instructions. The controller must then assert their disagreement but also follow the instructions to obtain the protections of Article 65.

It is important to note that the controller should state clearly that they are in professional disagreement with the instruction and if possible state that they are following Article 65 of the Contract by complying with the order. Should any error result, it will no longer be the controller’s responsibility. Therefore, a keen awareness of and assertion of Article 65 rights can save a controller from bearing any responsibility for management’s poor decisions.

Article 65 Black Book

The Engineers language is identical to that in the Red Book, but it has different implications because the nature of the bargaining unit work (engineering) is different from ATC work.

Most of the time, NATCA Region X engineers are able to agree with management direction and decisions in the engineering process. However, where their professional opinion differs from management, Article 65 applies. An engineer must make their disagreement known, and preferably will invoke their Article 65 rights when doing so. As always, the employee must ultimately follow management’s directions.

Examples of disagreement include regulatory requirements for documentation preparation, or design of an installation. An employee may feel that the document or equipment design needs to address a specific concern, such as margin of safety, and the manager may feel it does not need to be addressed. The reverse of that can happen, also. This is usually handled by talking between the employee and the manager, and some sort of compromise is worked out, where both parties are satisfied.

Multi-Units and Others

Similar language to Article 65 exists in other CBAs and interim agreements between NATCA and the FAA, such as the Multi-Unit and the Staff Support Specialists unit. Instances of differences in professional opinion arise in many circumstances.

For example, there are times when a contracting officer may not want to sign a contract, due to a concern over legality. Also, aircraft inspectors may disagree with management over the safety of a proposed design or design modification. In those circumstances the Article 65 rules as described above would apply.

Summary

In all cases, the language of Article 65 protects NATCA-represented employees from being held responsible for management decisions with which the employee professionally disagrees. NATCA-represented employees are highly trained individuals with a wealth of professional and technical experience. As such, they do not always agree with management decisions which they may view as unsafe or inappropriate. The key is to remember to:

  • Follow management’s instructions; and
  • Be sure to clearly state you are doing so under protest as provided for by Article 65.

By maintaining an awareness of the rights provided under Article 65 and asserting them properly, NATCA-represented employees can protect themselves when they know management is in error.