Wednesday, Jul. 27, 2011

Ronald Reagan vs. Air Traffic Controllers, 1981

President Ronald Reagan's public fight with the now defunct Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) redefined labor relations in the U.S. In February 1981, PATCO began negotiating for a new contract, which it hoped would reduce controllers' work week to 32 hours and include a $10,000 pay increase. When talks stalled in August, more than 11,000 air traffic controllers walked off the job. That really ticked President Reagan off. Calling the strike illegal — because of a law that banned strikes by government unions — and a "peril to national safety," Reagan demanded that controllers return to work or risk losing their jobs. But the striking workers did not concede, so almost all of them were fired — and banned from ever working for the Federal Aviation Administration again. Several months later the union was decertified and controllers who had been hired in their place organized the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. While President Clinton later ended the hiring ban on PATCO strikers, the incident had a larger impact, according to an NPR report: before 1981 major strikes in the U.S. averaged about 300 a year; in 2006, that number was about 30.