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Member Focus: Curt Howe // June 21, 2012


Curt Howe, Engineers and Architects

Why is veteran Region X Engineers and Architects bargaining unit member Curt Howe, the ENM (FAA Employees Northwest Mountain) Local President, embarrassed to say that he’s been a NATCA member for just over 15 years?

Because he fears people will think he’s “old.”

Howe isn’t a NATCA charter member because the Engineers and Architects bargaining unit wasn’t officially part of NATCA until 1997. However, Howe is a charter member of the E&A bargaining unit and recently celebrated his 25th anniversary as an FAA employee.

For those unfamiliar with Region X, you can guess who its members are by its slogan, “We Are More Than Just Air Traffic Controllers.” It has grown to include Engineers and Architects, the Aircraft Certification and Airport Division employees, and the men and women in the Regional Administrators’ Line of Business, including the General Counsel Division and the Drug Abatement Inspectors, Regional Office Staff Specialists and Aviation Technical Systems Specialists. Region X members are spread throughout the country.

Since 1997, Howe has represented FAA workers in the Northwest Mountain Region. In 1996 he was an E&A bargaining unit organizer and part of the first group of non-air traffic controller delegates to participate in NATCA in Washington, in 1998. He is the Region X representative for the NATCA Historical Committee, a NATCA First Chair Arbitration Advocate, the NATCA engineer delegate to the Council of Engineers & Scientists Organizations (CESO) and he has been a Local ENM delegate for every convention since 1998. Howe is also heavily involved in NATCA labor relations. He’s been on many contract and pay negotiations teams, including the second Engineers Contract Negotiations Team, and in 2004 he received a Natty Award (now known as the “Timmy” Award in honor of the late Tim Haines) for his incredible dedication and hard work. He’s even represented NATCA engineers throughout the world (as a CESO delegate) at professional conventions in Melbourne, Copenhagen and Rio de Janeiro.

As you can see, Howe has an extensive resume from his tenure at NATCA. But that’s not why he devotes his time to being a union leader.

“NATCA’s given me the chance to experience stuff I never would have experienced at the FAA or in my personal life,” said Howe. “It’s given all of us a voice in the workplace; we have an impact on our own working conditions and we can negotiate our pay and our job conditions.”

When Howe began working for the FAA, he said that FAA managers controlled engineers’ work and career development. There were pseudo-leadership groups of managers, contractors and technicians who would make decisions about those matters. Howe, based in Seattle, said his colleagues, Floyd Majors and Jim Clark, tried to participate in those decisions as far back as 1993, but the managers denied engineers access to the meetings and went so far as to tell the engineers, “You have no place at the table unless you are unionized.” That drove the engineers to form a union — they were professionals and they wanted a voice in the workplace.

“The managers were driving the engineers into a non-professional workplace where engineering was viewed as an overhead expense,” said Howe. “They wanted to make us into technicians and didn’t give much value to our engineering degrees, experience or knowledge. It was an issue of professionalism.”

So a few of Howe’s colleagues decided to find a professional union. They teamed up with some engineers from Atlanta and New York and met with NATCA in October 1995. In January 1997, Howe got involved as an organizer when Majors, who had been organizing with NATCA, resigned. Majors asked Howe to take over the organizing effort and the lead role for the Seattle engineering office.

Howe enjoys helping the other Region X bargaining units coordinate and share information concerning projects and budgets with air traffic controllers. The units are able to work together directly and share information that managers typically don’t. But for Howe, the highlight of working with the other Region X bargaining units was when he gave the members guidance while they were in the process of joining NATCA and continuing to support the other units while trying to add more members to the NATCA family.

When Howe joined NATCA in 1997, the engineers didn’t have their own region. They were lumped in with the regions of the air traffic control (ATC) bargaining unit. Starting at the 1998 NATCA Convention in Seattle, the engineers changed the language in the NATCA constitution to try and form their own region. It took a few conventions after that and constant changes in the constitution for them to finally get their own region, which became Region X. The engineers wanted their own region for several reasons, including that they felt their professions and issues were prominently different from the ATC bargaining unit. With the eventual inclusion of other non-ATC units, the group’s number of members, with up to 3,500 throughout the 50 states, was large enough to constitute their own region.

Aside from the challenges in establishing their own region, Region X members have encountered situations unlike those that the ATC bargaining unit members have faced, such as when five Region X bargaining units endured imposed work rules (IWRs) before the ATC bargaining unit did. The Region X members felt like the rules had been unfairly imposed and that if they were air traffic controllers they never would have been stuck with the IWRs. Two years later, that assumption proved false when the controllers too found themselves working under IWRs, also known as the White Book. Howe said when that happened it was a disappointing milestone for labor unions in the FAA.

“It was a realization that the Agency didn’t like anyone and they would put the Imposed Work Rules on anyone,” he said.

Another challenge for Region X is the complexity of its local constitutions, due to the number of bargaining units the region represents and the number of people within those bargaining units. There are more members per local and more people involved in a local election than in a typical ATC local and local election. Howe said while he is proud to have such a large number of members and diverse job classifications in the region, it makes solidarity difficult to achieve.

One highlight of being in Howe’s position is seeing the improvement in collaboration between the FAA and NATCA. Howe said that all the things NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert are doing with the Agency have had a very positive effect in Region X and that camaraderie within NATCA has never been better. Howe explained that collaboration is crucial because it encourages people to join the union.

“People like to get along. They want to see employees cooperating in common goals with the Agency,” he said. “Open talk causes movement within the group that makes the group better. It’s helped everybody in NATCA. The farther it goes, the better.”

While there are many highlights of Howe’s union leadership, the most satisfying part for him is after he’s solved a problem or issue and he hears from third parties that he was effective in what he did and that NATCA was on the right path the entire time.

“The really hard and controversial stuff that we do as union leaders can come with a lot of stress, but it’s very gratifying on the back side to hear that what you were doing was the right thing,” said Howe.

While Howe doesn’t wish stress on anyone, he does wish for NATCA’s young members to get involved. For those young members looking to serve the union and take on leadership roles, Howe’s advice is to participate as soon as possible.

“Don’t wait. Don’t sit idly by,” he said. “Get up and be active in your career. You’re not going to find another organization that is more closely aligned with your career and your goals than NATCA.”

Howe is eligible to retire in five years, but plans to keep working for at least 10 more.