This Week in NATCA/Labor History
Monday, August 01, 2011


July 31, 1981 — PATCO sets final strike deadline: Robert Poli announces the union will go on strike Aug. 3 unless its demands are met. Eleventh-hour talks begin.

August 3, 1981 — PATCO strike begins: The walkout starts at 7 a.m. Eastern time after telephone polling of union halls indicates PATCO has met its strike-vote goal by a paper-thin margin of 80.5 percent. Nearly 13,000 controllers—about 85 percent of the union’s membership and 79 percent of the work force—honor the picket line. Later that morning, President Reagan announces the controllers must return to their jobs within 48 hours or they’ll be fired because it is illegal for government workers to strike.

    Military controllers are deployed to civilian facilities and supervisors step in to handle traffic. Even so, airlines cancel more than 6,000 flights out of a daily total of 14,200.

    A federal court impounds PATCO’s $3.5 million strike fund. Another federal judge imposes fines on the union that could total $4.75 million in a week. The next day, Federal Judge Thomas C. Platt in New York fines PATCO $100,000 an hour for defying a 1970 injunction against striking.

August 5, 1981 — PATCO strike ends: About 875 controllers return to work. More than 11,350 lose their jobs; most appeal the action and about 440 are reinstated over the next two-and-a-half years. According to the Transportation Department, full-performance level (journeyman) and developmental controllers dropped 74 percent—from 16,375 to about 4,200.

    The FAA institutes “Flow Control 50,” which requires the airlines to cancel about half of their peak-hour flights at 22 major airports. In-trail restrictions at the centers increase from the normal 10 miles to as much as 100 miles. IFR flights are prohibited for general aviation planes weighing 12,500 pounds or less. VFR aircraft are prohibited from entering airspace around major airports known as Terminal Control Areas. Other general aviation traffic must reserve flight plans on a first-come, first-served basis.

August 2, 1985 — Air safety issue: A Delta Air Lines L-1011 crashes after encountering wind shear during final approach to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The accident kills 134 of the 163 people aboard the plane and one on the ground. The Low-Level Wind Shear Alert System at DFW did not record the turbulence until after the crash, demonstrating the system’s limitations. Subsequently, Raytheon Company develops a Terminal Doppler Weather Radar System to provide improved alert capability, and the FAA buys 47 units to install at key airports.

August 3, 1990 — NATCA informational picketing: In a “Walk for Safety,” NATCA National Office staff members and more than 120 controllers from around the nation picket in front of Washington Center to protest continued low staffing.

August 12, 1993 — PATCO strike aftermath: President Clinton announces that controllers fired for participating in the walkout 12 years ago may reapply for employment with the FAA.


Aug. 5, 1933:
During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the National Labor Board to enforce the right of collective bargaining. Ultimately declared illegal by the Supreme Court, it was replaced two years later by the National Labor Relations Board.

Aug. 3, 1981: Fifteen thousand air traffic controllers strike. President Reagan threatens to fire any who do not return to work within 48 hours, saying they "have forfeited their jobs" if they do not. Most stay out, and are fired Aug. 5.

Aug. 5, 1993: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) took effect today. The first law signed by President Clinton, it allows many workers time off each year due to serious health conditions or to care for a family member.

Aug. 6, 2000: Workers at Verizon, the nation’s largest local telephone company, launch what is to become an 18-day strike over working conditions and union representation.