This Week in NATCA/Labor History
Thursday, October 14, 2010


October 20, 1980 — The Reagan letter: Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan writes to PATCO President Robert Poli, stating in part: “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.”

October 17, 1981 — A last-ditch deal: In a meeting with Robert Poli and John Leyden, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland says a White House source told him the administration would allow the controllers to return to work if PATCO calls off the strike and its leadership acknowledges responsibility for the walkout. Some PATCO members dispute the authenticity of this deal. Five days later, PATCO’s Executive Board votes 7-2 to reject the terms, insisting the strike could still be won and that any agreement should also include the resignation of FAA Administrator J. Lynn Helms.

October 22, 1981 — PATCO decertified: The Federal Labor Relations Authority revokes the union’s status as the sole bargaining agent for controllers. 

PATCO files suit to appeal the decision. On December 3, Anthony Skirlick from Los Angeles Center testifies pro se before the U.S. Court of Appeals in a hearing on the decertification, the only working controller to do so. He argues that while the government has a legal right to fire the strikers, it serves no purpose to disband a union that still numbers several thousand members who are active controllers.

The following June, however, the court rules in favor of the FLRA. This marks the first time the U.S. government has destroyed a bargaining agent representing some of its employees.


1873: The Miners’ National Association is formed in Youngstown, Ohio, with the goal of uniting all miners, regardless of skill or ethnic background.

1934: American Federation of Labor votes to boycott all German-made products as a protest against Nazi antagonism to organized labor within Germany.

1985: More than 1,100 office workers strike Columbia University in New York City. The mostly female and minority workers win union recognition and pay increases.