Air traffic controllers took to the picket lines
including Thornton, he and several others were arrested
and charged with felony counts. Thornton was held for
ten days at the Fairfax County, Virginia jail.
paid the ultimate sacrifice in 1981 so he could better
the profession and workplace for future generations of
air traffic controllers,” said National Air Traffic
Controllers Association (NATCA) Executive Vice President
As with many air traffic controllers Thornton loss
his job and began selling life insurance.
In 1983, "air traffic
controllers looking to organize a new union sought
Thornton’s help. Despite the pain and damage of the
walkout, Thornton overcame his emotions and accepted the
offer, immersing himself in a nationwide effort that
culminated with a new union with new goals - NATCA".
During the years to follow Thornton played a major role
in the reorganizing and shaping of a labor union that
air traffic controllers could proudly vote for. Thornton
persuaded the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association
(M.E.B.A.), the oldest maritime trade union in the
United States and a member of the AFL–CIO, to let him go
on the road as a national organizing coordinator. This
was a very difficult time for air traffic controllers as
well the aviation industry.
On June 11, 1987, over 70 percent of the air traffic
controllers voted in favor of NATCA as their sole
bargaining union. Thornton said, "I'd like to say it was
smart organizing on my part, but it may just have been
that we were the only remedy available." On June 19 the
FLRA certified NATCA as the air traffic controllers
Thornton served at NATCA as the interim president until
July 18, 1988, when NATCA elected Steve Bell as their
first president and Ray Spickler their Executive Vice
President. At which time Thornton was appointed as
NATCA’s senior director of legislative affairs, a
position he served in for seven years.
served for more than 10 years with NATCA until 1995. He
served as the unions’ national coordinator, executive
director and senior director of legislative affairs and
a number of executive positions.
Thornton told the Los Angeles Times in June 1987, "We
want a non-adversarial relationship with the FAA Not a
lot of rhetoric. Not a lot of confrontation. If we went
out and started condemning them, got that old antagonism
going again, we really couldn't expect them to say, 'OK,
we'll deal with you in a upright manner."
July 23, 1987, Thornton spoke before the Aviation Safety
his concerns with safety and work conditions at the
FAA. “The Controllers who voted for NATCA are extremely
concerned by the deteriorating margin of safety in the
Air Traffic Control System and the lack of corrective
action by the FAA. They believe that a union can make a
difference, in air safety where they as individuals
could not. That is why we are appearing before you