Paul Rinaldi has served as the sixth president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association since October 2009. In March 2012 and March 2015, Rinaldi was re-elected by acclamation. In July 2018, Rinaldi won re-election to serve an unprecedented fourth, three-year term. Rinaldi is the first in NATCA’s history to serve more than two terms as president.
That is not, however, the first time Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert have made history; though NATCA’s top two positions are elected separately, in 2009 they campaigned for their respective positions as a team, which had never been done.
Since taking office in 2009 Rinaldi and Gilbert have continued to work as a team, along with the NATCA National Executive Board, elevating NATCA to new levels of success. NATCA’s team is committed and focused on improving the working relationship between the Union, the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation. Efforts like the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP), fatigue mitigation, Professional Standards, and Partnership For Safety are a result of the team’s focus on progress and safety. These processes have led to collaborative decisions on important issues involving airspace, procedures, technology, staffing and training while cementing NATCA’s leadership role and voice in the aviation industry.
Prior to being elected NATCA President, Rinaldi served three years as NATCA’s Executive Vice President, after 16 years as an air traffic controller at Washington-Dulles Tower (IAD). Rinaldi currently holds positions on the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), the FAA Management Advisory Council (MAC) and at the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention he was elected as a vice president of the labor federation’s Executive Council. He was re-elected to that position at the AFL-CIO 2017 Convention. Rinaldi also serves on the RTCA Policy Board and the Board of Advisors for the Eno Center for Transportation.
On Oct. 19, 2016, the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) presented Rinaldi with the prestigious Glen A. Gilbert Memorial Award, one of the most significant awards in aviation and ATCA’s highest honor. The Glen A. Gilbert Memorial Award is dedicated to the memory of one of the “Fathers of Air Traffic Control” and honors the lifelong achievements of an individual in the field of aviation.
On May 26, 2016, Rinaldi received the prestigious 2016 Humanitarian Award from the Sons of Italy Foundation (SIF) at its National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) Gala in Washington, D.C. The SIF is the philanthropic arm of the Order Sons of Italy, the nation’s largest and oldest organization for people of Italian heritage.
Rinaldi is a native of Island Park, N.Y. He resides in Manassas, Va., with his wife, Debra. They have two sons, Anthony and Nicholas, and a daughter, Olivia.
Rinaldi’s Path to Leadership
During his time at IAD, Rinaldi was immediately drawn to representing the hard-working men and women in his facility. He was elected as vice president of the facility’s local NATCA chapter in 1995 and became the facility representative a year later. Rinaldi’s leadership soon resulted in IAD becoming a 100 percent NATCA membership facility.
Rinaldi has also served the union as a member of the Eastern Region Labor Relations Team, an arbitration advocate since 2000, an air safety investigator from 1997 to 2006 and, in 2003, he accepted the challenge to represent the NATCA Eastern Region as its alternate vice president.
Leading the Union
Rinaldi is fiercely dedicated to the platform on which he and Gilbert ran for office. He has committed every minute of every hour of every day to the NATCA membership and has strived to make every NATCA member’s quality of life better by securing NATCA’s voice in improving the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS) and enhancing quality of the service its members provide. Above all, Rinaldi and Gilbert believe in honesty, integrity, open communication, dedication, solidarity, tenacity, unity, leading by example, and loyalty.
Among Rinaldi’s top goals when he entered office were a fairly-negotiated, ratifiable contract for the air traffic controller, traffic management and NOTAM bargaining units, new contracts for many of NATCA’s non-ATC bargaining units and a change in Title 49 that added permanence to NATCA’s right to a fair collective bargaining process. In addition, Rinaldi sought to secure NATCA’s place at the table for the discussions on developing and implementing critical safety and technology modernization projects, including NextGen. Rinaldi led the Union to achieve all these goals before the end of his first term.
Immediately after being elected, Rinaldi began leading the way to give NATCA a voice in the decision-making process on NextGen, services and facility realignment and other key issues in the NAS. He reached out to leadership within the FAA and Congress to establish strong relationships and ensure NATCA’s voice was heard at all levels.
While Rinaldi and Gilbert believe in leading by example, they also know that a union is only as strong as its membership. After they took office, they developed, with the knowledge and expertise of former NATCA leaders, a mission to advance the organization internally.
“The experience, skill and vision of our past leaders have assisted us in moving into the future as a force in the labor world,” says Rinaldi. “We must learn from the past in order to build for the future.”
Rinaldi and Gilbert worked side-by-side to develop a transition plan for the new generation of members, ensure constant and continuing education to empower the membership, encourage activism and develop a continual feedback mechanism for the membership to ensure the Union prioritizes their needs. They also travel extensively to facilities throughout the nation and to facilities in U.S. territories NATCA represents, including Puerto Rico and Guam, to make sure they hear the concerns and ideas of all NATCA members.
Rinaldi has helped lead the way in successful labor management relations during his tenure as President of NATCA. By encouraging collaboration at NATCA and leading by example, Rinaldi has helped set a new industry standard.
“The FAA-NATCA relationship is both storied and complex,” said Federal Labor Relations Authority Chairman Ernie DuBester. “It went from one of the worst labor management relationships in the federal government to hopefully what they’re comfortable saying is a model relationship.”
Rinaldi started the positive change between NATCA and the FAA when he met with then-FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt promptly after taking office. Rinaldi advocated to Administrator Babbitt that partnership and collaboration needed to begin at the local level, in the facilities across the country.
“In order to change the culture, you have to change the behavior,” says Rinaldi. “So we set up collaboration conferences and then training. And we really constantly pushed towards finding the common ground and working together. We knew if we didn’t really push that philosophy down to the field level, we would fall short and we wouldn’t be able to really change the culture of the FAA.”
“Although it is obvious, I must say that the success we have had in accomplishing our mission at the FAA is possible only because we have excellent labor partners,” former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “We are an agency with a total of 47,000 employees – 36,000 of them are organized for collective bargaining in eight different national unions. I want to especially acknowledge the outstanding partnership we have with NATCA. Union leaders and the employees they represent are committed to the agency’s success and demonstrate it every day.”
Because labor-management relations are strong under Rinaldi’s leadership, NATCA and the FAA have partnered on a number of programs to enhance aviation safety and modernization. Together, the two organizations created a Collaborative Steering Committee, which led to the implementation of many collaborative workgroups that helped lead to workplace improvements for all employees. The two organizations have also implemented a National Professional Standards Program that has elevated the level of professionalism in the workforce and instilled greater pride in what it means to be a safety professional. NATCA and the FAA also created a workgroup within the program to proactively address distractions in the workplace, with a high focus on electronic devices, called “Turn Off Tune In.”
Rinaldi’s advocating and dedication to meeting with the FAA eventually led to a NATCA representative on every NextGen program as well as a hundreds of Article 48 representatives throughout the country working on a host of other issues, from airspace redesign to staffing and training.
“We have engaged in every sector of the National Airspace System (NAS) to ensure that our valuable knowledge and strong work ethic is utilized,” said Rinaldi. “We’re able to use our voice to foster, shape and hone the next generation of air traffic control equipment and procedures and that cannot be understated.”
In March 2012 Rinaldi and Gilbert signed an agreement with the FAA to extend the Union’s existing Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATC), Notice to Airmen Specialist (NOTAM), and Traffic Management Coordinator/Specialist (TMC/S) collective bargaining agreement for four more years, marking a huge success for the Union and its collaborative relationship with the agency. In 2016, Rinaldi and Gilbert signed a new six-year collective bargaining agreement with the FAA covering the ATC, NOTAM, TMU, and Alaskan Flight Service Station (FSS) bargaining units.
Additionally, in 2017, NATCA and the FAA agreed to extend (to July 1, 2021) both the Multi-Unit collective bargaining agreement and the Consolidated collective bargaining agreement. Combined, they cover more than 5,000 bargaining unit employees (BUEs) — one quarter of NATCA’s total represented BUEs. The Multi-Unit CBA covers the Drug Abatement (DAI), Finance and Management (AFN), Automation Specialist (AOS), Aircraft Certification (AIR and AIR-110), General Counsel (AGC), and Airports (ARP) bargaining units. The Consolidated CBA covers the Engineers and Architects (E&A), Staff Specialists (SSS), Aviation Technical System Specialists (ATSS), and Flight Procedures Team (FPT) bargaining units.
NATCA has also expanded its list of represented Federal Contract Towers to more than 100 and each of them are covered by CBAs, with Robinson Aviation (RVA), Inc. (through Dec. 30, 2020), Midwest Air Traffic Control Service, Inc. (through 2020), and Serco, Inc. (2014 CBA which remains in effect).
In addition, NATCA and the FAA also collaborate on a voluntary, non-punitive, confidential safety reporting program called the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP) and a Fatigue Risk Management Working Group to address and mitigate fatigue issues in the workplace.
Once ranked almost last in the “Best Places to Work Survey” in the federal sector, the FAA is now ranked in the top 40 percent.
Rinaldi remains especially committed to the development and implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), and ensuring NATCA has a voice at the table in the decision-making process. As a member of the NAC, Rinaldi routinely participates in meetings with aviation industry stakeholders, policy makers and management to devise the best way to develop and implement ways to modernize the NAS to make it better and safer for the flying public.
“How do we enhance this system and make it grow for the future?” asks Rinaldi. “One of the most frustrating things we hear is, ‘When is NextGen going to be implemented?’ Parts of NextGen are being implemented right now. … NextGen is happening now.”
Staying true to the platform on which he built his NATCA presidential campaign, Rinaldi encourages and demonstrates that collaboration among stakeholders is the most efficient way to achieve important NextGen milestones.
Rinaldi cites En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) as one of the most influential examples of collaboration. “That is a very important task,” he said. “It’s the biggest transformation and the biggest program that the FAA and NATCA have taken on together. And it’s a wonderful success story. In 2009, we were not involved in developing and testing, and ERAM was not working. Today, we’re involved in every detail.”
Rinaldi’s dedication to NextGen extends beyond the air traffic control profession.
“This isn’t just an investment in air traffic management,” said Lockheed Martin CEO and President Marillyn Hewson at the annual RTCA symposium in 2013. “It’s an investment in national and global commerce, in tourism, in business travel, and in the infrastructure that makes this country run. And let’s not forget the benefits to the environment. NextGen will make air travel greener than ever. While we know there’s still much work to be done, I’m tremendously proud of our team for the progress they’ve made supporting the program. And I’m grateful for the outstanding partnership we’ve enjoyed with the FAA, the Control Center teams, and NATCA. This continues to be a true team effort.”
Said Rinaldi in 2017: “It’s without argument that commercial aviation is in the safest period in history. It’s an accomplishment we should all be proud of, and it’s a lot of work and resources that have gone in over the last eight years to make this robust culture of safety. And with the cornerstones of collaboration, communication, reporting, and professionalism, we’re at an all-time high in safety. But as good as we are, it is not time to rest on our accomplishments of yesterday. It is not time to think we are good enough as an aviation system.”
Rinaldi has been a legislative force for NATCA, leading the Union to many successes, such as ensuring collective bargaining for NATCA members and ending the sequester-related furloughs of 2013. He saw his Union through many tumultuous times, including four federal government shutdowns and repeated attacks on federal employees that threaten the profession and the system NATCA safeguards. Through it all, Rinaldi ensured the Union had a resounding voice on Capitol Hill.
During the partial shutdown of the FAA in 2011, 4,000 employees, including 1,200 of NATCA’s Region X bargaining unit members, were furloughed. Rinaldi and Gilbert called the NATCA membership to action, to use its voice to spotlight the abdication of Congressional responsibility. They led the Union in a national media campaign and grassroots legislative efforts, with NATCA members across the country flooding their congressional members’ offices with emails, faxes, phone calls and visits.
“We will not let this Congressional inaction go unnoticed,” said Rinaldi. “Nor will we shrink from this fight. We assure you that we will not rest until every one of our Brothers and Sisters is back to work and have been made whole…Brothers and Sisters, this is as serious as it gets. We have members collecting unemployment, struggling to pay their mortgage, their car payment, and their children’s college bills. We have seen, all too recently, that there are those who will attempt to break our solidarity, our unity, and our collective spirit. And they are willing to do it at the expense of the National Airspace System that we are sworn to protect. We need you to make our voice hear loud and clear. Only together will we make this right and compel Congress to act and make our Brothers and Sisters whole again.”
In February 2012, legislative efforts of so many within the Union, directed by Rinaldi, finally culminated in President Obama’s signature on a new FAA Reauthorization Bill, making it law. Not only did the bill provide funding stability to develop and train the next generation of air traffic controllers along with the next generation of equipment and procedures, the final bill also contained an essential collective bargaining provision, which ensured that the entire FAA workforce would never again have work and pay rules imposed upon them by their employer without a fair collective bargaining process.
“This is a great day for our Union, our respective safety professions and the National Airspace System,” said Rinaldi. “By fixing Title 49, we have restored basic collective bargaining rights to tens of thousands of union members within the FAA. Collective bargaining rights are the very heart and soul of a union … This bill ensures that we are never again stripped of our collective bargaining rights.”
When sequestration first threatened the nation in December 2012, NATCA was one of the first to release a detailed report to the public on the potential effects sequestration could have on the aviation industry and the economy. Rinaldi led the call to action for other industry leaders to voice their concerns to Congress, and once again embarked the Union on national media and legislative grassroots campaigns. After five days of air traffic controller furloughs in April 2013 and nearly 14,000 delays, the efforts of NATCA culminated in the Congressional passage of a bill that allowed an end to the furloughs, the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013.
Rinaldi has testified before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on a host of issues, including FAA Reauthorization, facility consolidations and realignments, NextGen modernization, and collaboration to ensure air safety. He’s also testified about air traffic control safety oversight.
He believes education is the key to having NATCA’s issues heard. That’s why NATCA’s legislative activism is so strong. Rinaldi always advocates that NATCA’s issues are truly bipartisan, as ensuring the safety for the flying public is the top priority for the Union.
Under Rinaldi’s leadership, the Union has thrived within the larger House of Labor.
Rinaldi has helped the Union defeat many attacks on federal employees and on the Union. Part of his success lies in his ability to keep NATCA members united and driven by telling them about the struggles and battles the Union has previously endured, and the ultimate sacrifice PATCO members made in 1981 for future generations.
“PATCO members fought for the same thing NATCA members fight for, to improve working conditions for the membership, better equipment for the system,” said Rinaldi. “Never let us forget the sacrifices of those that came before us. Their sacrifices and the lessons they taught us have made us stronger and smarter.”
In 2011, NATCA, for the first time, met the long-term goal of 100 percent of the NATCA bargaining units covered by fairly negotiated and ratified collective bargaining agreements. In 2012, Rinaldi helped secure both the FAA Reauthorization Bill, and the four-year renewal of the Union’s “Red Book” contract. In 2016, Rinaldi and Gilbert signed a new six-year collective bargaining agreement with the FAA covering the ATC, NOTAM, TMU, and Alaskan Flight Service Station (FSS) bargaining units.
“Labor peace was not delivered to us on a silver platter,” said Rinaldi. “We have worked hard and were successful because NATCA will always outwork, fight harder, communicate and educate better than those that would oppose us.”
He continued, “They can attack us, but NATCA members will keep marching on!”
Rinaldi has instilled in the NATCA membership a sense of pride in their profession and career paths; that their dedication as civil servants is honorable, and that labor is not a dirty word. He also advocates that they must always stand united, and dedicate their work to the values of honesty, professionalism, integrity brotherhood and above all, safety.
“We became a strong union having been through many challenges over the course of our history,” said Rinaldi. “We have nerves of steel, our spines are made of brick and mortar, our skin is of Teflon, and you cannot pierce our souls. We don’t give up and we don’t back down. We are relentless in the never ending pursuit to continue running the safest, most efficient air traffic control system in the world.”
Media and Public Affairs
Rinaldi has represented NATCA in every medium, from print to radio to TV and also social media and online media to advocate for the issues most important to NATCA and aviation safety. These issues include federal government budget cuts, the shutdown of the federal government and stable funding options for the National Airspace System. His most notable appearances include NBC Nightly News, CNN and Huffington Post Live and quotes in Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Fox Business News, and The Washington Post.
Additionally, Rinaldi represents NATCA members at events throughout the national and international aviation communities. He regularly speaks at industry events and conferences in United States, including a speech at the Aero Club of Washington, D.C., the RTCA annual symposium, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Annual Aviation Summit, the Air Traffic Control Association annual conference, and the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l. (ALPA) annual Air Safety Forum.
Rinaldi and Gilbert also attend and speak at many international air traffic control events, such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual conference. Rinaldi has also given the Union an international presence by designating representatives to the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The NATCA Difference
Although membership is voluntary, NATCA has the highest percentage of representation of any federal employee union.
“The beautiful thing about this union is we’re a volunteer army and everybody wants to be a part of us,” says Rinaldi.
NATCA is a collective voice that expresses its members’ passion for aviation safety and lifts their professions and the National Airspace System to new heights. No other entity will step out and fight for individuals like NATCA does.
Though NATCA is a national organization with 20,000 represented employees in 17 different bargaining units, its members are tied together because of their participation in a conversation led by Rinaldi — a discussion about their careers, their professions, their families and their future. Each conversation is an opportunity to open a new door and discover ways to have their voices heard and also explore their talents and interests. It’s “The NATCA Difference” that makes that possible.
The primary objectives of the NATCA Reloaded program are recruiting, mentoring, organizing and inspiring the ranks of NATCA activists at every level. With an increasingly diverse workforce with both veteran employees and recent hires, the program is designed to promote member education concerning the important history behind NATCA and labor, and to increase the quality and quantity of NATCA leaders through education, mentoring and leadership coaching. Reloaded ensures the long-term viability and integrity of NATCA and has grown tremendously under Rinaldi’s tenure.
Rinaldi did not have a vision of being the president of NATCA, but his leadership path developed in that direction because he wanted to change the Union and better his profession. He got involved with the Union from the start of his career, and simply by saying “yes” to anything he could help with, he quickly moved up the ranks.
Rinaldi knows from experience the importance of understanding why the Union exists and why being active within the Union is so important. Through extensive experience, Rinaldi also understands there is a different path for everyone within NATCA, and that exposure to different events, positions and programs is the only way to make sure every member finds a particular issue they are passionate about. When they find their niche, members become dedicated and involved.
This program is also an opportunity for NATCA’s current leaders and activists to pass on their skills, values and knowledge to ensure the organization will always exist and protect the rights of its members and their professions.
From the mentoring program, to meet-and-greets with academy students, to future leader brunches, roundtables and panels, to NATCA Reloaded events in cities across the country, the NATCA Reloaded program is shaping the next generation of NATCA’s leaders.
“Get involved. This righteous Union is first-class, and it’s accomplishing important things,” said Rinaldi. “You need to be a part of it. Your activism is what this Union depends on.”