Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization V. Reagan: the Strike That Helped Shape U. S. Labor Relations

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Thirty one years ago, when President Ronald Reagan threatened to fire approximately
13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, the president not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the labor relations in the United States.
The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike of August 3. 1981 was a remarkable day in the history of this country. Under the direction of union president,
Robert E. Poli, 14,500 members declared a nationwide strike. Approximately 11,500 members walked off their jobs because of contract disputes with the Federal Aviation
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“It won an order directing that the stoppage be ended and that controllers return to work. The FAA won similar orders in Minnesota and Alaska” (Northrup 169). As a direct result, the FAA fired fifty two controllers, of whom forty six were later reinstated to their positions. The FAA also suspended nearly on thousand more controllers for a short period of time. As a result of the strike, Bailey’s tenure as executive director of PATCO came to an end when his position was abolished. Subsequently, John F.
Leyden was chosen as president, a position that he held for the next ten years. In addition,
Assistant Secretary of Labor W. J. Usery disqualified PATCO as a bargaining agent for 126 days. The union was later reinstated by Usery and it won exclusive bargaining rights election in 1972. In July and August of 1976 tensions ran high again after the Civil Service Commissioner declined to reclassified controllers to a higher salary grade. The result was that PATCO staged slowdowns for five days at the nation’s busiest airports. Its tactics proved successful when on
January 13, 1977, the Commission reversed itself and increased controllers’ wages (Northrup
In preparations for subsequent strikes, in 1977 PATCO established a strike fund known as the National Controller Subsistence Fund. 15 percent of the membership dues were

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