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Member Focus: Jeff Richards // December 15, 2011

Jeff Richards, Chicago Center

“If you ask my wife, she says NATCA means everything to me,” said Great Lakes Region Alternate Regional Vice President (ARVP) and Chicago Center (ZAU) President Jeff Richards. “I wouldn’t be making the amount of money I make today, I wouldn’t have the workplace rules…we would still be under the White Book. It would be horrible to go to work without NATCA.”

A 20-year NATCA veteran, Richards is beyond passionate about the union and, like his veteran brothers of the previous spotlight articles, he hit the ground running as soon as he joined.

The FAA hired Richards in Jan. 1991 and he joined NATCA that April, before he even finished air traffic control training. Though certified, NATCA was still in its infancy when Richards became a controller and the union had several kinks to work out.

Richards said communication amongst the union members in the 1990s was a big issue because of the lack of technology.

“Now I can just email blast my membership,” said Richards, “whereas back then, I had to post on the union bulletin board…then you had management reading it, so it was hard to convey your message to your membership without letting management know what your plans were at the time.”

Other early, contentious issues at ZAU were Alternate Work Schedules (AWS) and trying to get the FAA to change how overtime was given. Overtime used to be reset, Richards related, so there would be a seniority list, overtime would be given out up to a certain number of spots per year and the list would be reset at the beginning of each.

“So if I’m number 55 on the seniority list for overtime, but it only gets to number 50 by the end of the year, the list gets reset and I’m back where I started,” said Richards.

Another issue for ZAU NATCA members at that time was the divide between generations.

When Richards started at ZAU, he said there was a “chasm between the older PATCO guys and the younger NATCA guys.” That generational divide, along with a self-described “mega maniacal” personality, and a push from the young NATCA members at the facility, motivated Richards to immediately run for area representative.

“I had ideas and thoughts of the way things should be run and I’m sure at the time they were naïve,” said Richards.

Those ideas may have been naïve, but they inspired him to run for a local position, which led Richards to a long career of leadership.

In 2005, Richards was elected President of ZAU and still holds that position. In 2009, Great Lakes RVP Bryan Zilonis named Richards ARVP, and at that same time, Richards was named to the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Negotiation Workgroup and the Fatigue Risk Management Workgroup.

Richards said that the biggest and most unique challenge for the Great Lakes Region is its size. The region is the second largest in NATCA, so keeping in touch with all the members that comprise the 55 facilities – including four centers – is a major challenge for the region leadership. Richards said it is tough to coordinate, teach, and educate even the facility representatives because there are so many of them.

“I don’t know how they did it in the ’90s [without internet],” Richards said. “Because now you can just send a blast email, ‘Hey this is happening,’ and get the feedback.”

Although it is difficult to keep up with the day-to-day issues of the region’s membership, Richards said that the volume and variety of the membership issues is the reason he enjoyed his time as ZAU President – a time that is almost over. Richards’ term ends this month and he decided not to run again because he feels he cannot properly serve the position as well as his duties as ARVP along with being a member on Fatigue Risk Management System Steering Committee and implementing the professional standards program.

Serving NATCA in these many roles, Richards finds the most gratifying part is serving the members. Nothing makes him happier then when he finds a way to get a member transferred to the city of their choice.

Due to his many experiences, Richards has several recommendations for young members. His advice to them is to be aware of what is going on their area, donate to the NATCA Political Action Committee (PAC), ask how to help at their facility, and do the best they possibly can with the task they are given, even if it’s not what they want to do.

As for the future, Richards is focused on the making sure the Fatigue Risk Management Group’s recommendations get implemented while he’s still working. He’s eligible to retire in 2013, but plans to stay through 2019.

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