The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) 25th Strike Anniversary

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Spend Time with Current and Former PATCO Controllers As They Relive the Strike, Share Their Personal Stories, and Talk About the Current State of the Industry at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel, Hollywood, FL, August 2-3, 2006

Return to work or you’re fired!

They were labeled criminals, traitors, oath breakers and lawbreakers, but that was the Federal Government’s spin to distract the public from the real issue of what was happening behind the scenes with the professionals who worked in what was ranked at the time as the most stressful career in the world – Air Traffic Control. The Government’s intent was never to seriously negotiate, let alone resolve, the working conditions of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), but to get rid of them.

When the FAA and PATCO entered into contract negotiations in the early 1980’s, PATCO was seeking safer working conditions, including a 32-hour work week, updated computer equipment and retirement after 20 years of service. U.S. controllers were the only ones in the world forced to work 40-hour weeks consisting of eight-hour shifts without breaks, with up to 20 hours of mandatory overtime added on each week. Because of this, some 89 percent left before retirement age, including 40 percent leaving to collect disability retirement. The Federal Government got a lot of mileage out of attacking PATCO’s demand for a $10,000 wage increase; however, the salary for a starting controller was just $15,000 a year, often taking seven years and just the right transfer opportunities for a professional to get to $29,000 a year.

As a result of the fruitless efforts to try and improve the working conditions for Air Traffic Controllers and the service they delivered, twenty five years ago, on August 3, 1981, after several months of extensive, yet fruitless contract negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), PATCO was forced to call a nationwide strike.

Prior to his election, President Regan wrote a letter to PATCO’s President, Robert Poli, stating, “You can rest assured that if I am elected President, I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety.... I pledge to you that my administration will work very closely with you to bring about a spirit of cooperation between the President and the air traffic controllers.”

Later, President Reagan’s response to the strikers would be much different. Essentially, “Return to work or you’re fired!” was his message to organized labor, which has echoed since then for more than a quarter of a century. He ordered the arrests and jailing of hundreds of controllers, fired 11,541 highly skilled professionals and banned them for life from ever returning to their profession, leaving approximately 3,400 controllers to man the safety of the United States’ air traffic. This resulted in extreme financial damage to the airline industry: Approximately $30 million per day for the larger airline carriers, according to The Eighties Club. Financial damage also occurred within industries that relied on air transportation to conduct business and move goods. In the few months that followed the strike, the Government’s final kill was to decertify and destroy the PATCO union. By 1984, air traffic had increased by six percent while there were still 20 percent fewer controllers than had been on the job prior to the strike*.

On August 12, 1993, President Clinton lifted the ban on the rehiring of the PATCO strikers, but the FAA has, to a significant degree, ignored this order. To date, only 846 PATCO controllers have been allowed to return to their profession. The FAA continues with their illegal lock-out and discriminating policies against PATCO controllers.

Today, PATCO is once again a union affiliated with The Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) and the AFL-CIO. PATCO continues to seek justice for the strikers in courts of law, organize air traffic controllers in the private sector, and improve working conditions for all Air Traffic Control professionals. The FAA, has failed to learn from the strike and still maintains its hard line approach in dealing with its workforce. The FAA’s recent self-imposed forced contract on the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and its members clearly reflects an anti-union attitude, foretelling that turbulent times may lie ahead.

Please join us August 2-3, 2006 at the Hard Rock Casino Hotel in Hollywood, Florida where hundreds of current and former PATCO controllers will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1981 PATCO strike. We have some amazing stories to share with you.


Ron Taylor





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