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Article 65 of the 2009 ATC/TMC/NOTAM Contract: Professional Disagreements

What happens if you are working your position and your supervisor tells you to do something you think is unsafe?

Article 65 of the ATC/TMC/NOTAM Contract states: The Parties recognize that the employees are accountable for ensuring that their performance conforms with established standards. However, in the event of a difference in professional opinion between the employee and the Agency, the employee shall comply with the instructions of the Agency and the Agency shall assume responsibility for its own decisions.

What does this mean and how should you handle professional disagreements with your supervisor? If the supervisor gives you an instruction that you disagree with and you believe is unsafe what do you do? According to the Article 65, you are required to comply with the instructions. You should invoke Article 65, calmly and professionally stating that you disagree with the instructions, and consider the directive unsafe. If possible, it is helpful to have a witness to the conversation or to invoke Article 65 on a recorded line. According to the contract, once you invoke Article 65 and follow the instructions, if an operational error or deviation occurs, the Agency is responsible.

It is never advisable to refuse to carry out a supervisor’s instructions, even if you believe the supervisor’s instructions could lead to an unsafe operation. For example, a controller who was very busy working the radar position was told to combine it with the radar associate position. The R-side controller believed he was too busy to combine up the positions and refused, eventually engaging in a loud, angry confrontation with the supervisor. Despite the controller’s dedication to his profession and the safety of the flying public, the arbitrator upheld the five-day suspension. Again, in this situation, the best course of action is to invoke Article 65 and then follow the instructions.

In addition, NATCA has negotiated the ATSAP agreement that provides amnesty for controllers who report unsafe conditions. The ATSAP report provides additional protection from disciplinary action if a controller follows a supervisor’s instructions and an unsafe operation results. The best course of action is to comply in accordance with Article 65 and then file an ATSAP report to bring the supervisor’s instructions and the unsafe operation to the Agency’s attention.