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On August 3, 1981, after 8 months of labor contract negotiation with FAA failed to yield satisfactory terms, more than 12000 Air traffic controllers represented by PATCO went on strike. Immedately Regan government declared strike illeagal and ordered striking air traffic controllers to return to work with 48 hours or to be fired. Despite presidents order and courts injunction against using any PATCO benefit fund for stke benefits, 12000 controllers chose to continue on strike and were fired as a result. In the first few weeks of strike, although FAA had implemented contingency plans with supervisors and nonstriking personnel, supplemented by 370 controllers supplied by military, the air traffic were still reduced within 75% normal level. The impact of strike were felt immediately by airline industry which saw loss of $35 million a day. Total airline layoffs reached 1000 in 3 weeks and some small airlines began to cease operation because of restrictions on flight. Cargo carriers were concerned with cargo piling up. Hotel and motel industry estimated their loss to be %10 to 15 million a day. The ripple effect on national economy were anybodys guess. The los Angeles Times estimated the cost of strike between one and six billion if it were to last more than 60 days. The Wall Street Journal predicted that capacity and competition in airline industry would be reduced and cost to the customer would be increased. On political front, while there were some criticism of governments inconsistency in handling the labor affair, many have pondered over the broader implications of the actions by PATCO and the Federal Government. Public poll

showed strong support for the Presidents decision, with 57% approval vs 30% disapproval. Meanwhile, 63% people felt that the controllers must have had a legitimate reason for sacrificing their jobs and 58% agreed that controllers worked under undue stress. FAAs task of rebuilding the system proved to be a difficult one. Under the pressure to fill 5500 jobs within a year, the recruitment and training of new controllers run into many problems. In the mean time, dismissed traffic controller found it difficult to get a new job, not to mention the comparable pay or benifits. Weeks after strike, FLRA decertified PATCO. In January 1982, President of PATCO Rober Poli Resigned. It paved way for the FAA to negotiate with new labor organization of air traffic controllers.

Problem Identification
During the strike, what grabed the headline were unions demands for $10,000 across the borad pay raise, 32 hours work week and better retirement packages. However, the fundamental issues were not just economic ones. Newsweek noted that "controllers concede that their chief complaint is not money but hours, working conditions, and a lack of recognition for the pressures they face.[2]" The final clash between PATCO, union for the air traffic controllers, and FAA had brewed for more than a decade. Since 1968, the year it was formed, PATCO had confronted FAA with various job actions: a two-day sick out in June of 1969; a three-day sick out in 1970; and a four-day slown donw in 1978. The FAA

countered with firing of union leaders and a federal court issued order banning PATCO from striking again. Although there confrontations did not resulted in the resolution of air traffic controllers main issues, i.e., inadequate equipments and understaffing, PATCO had since become bigger and gained more influence. While the way FAA dealt with these job actions and the demand of air traffic controllers was a factor leading to final show down in 1981, the development of legal environment throughout the period exerted its own forces. In addition, political decisions from both union and goverment play a key role both before and during the strike. But lets first examine the fundamental issues facing the air traffic controllers and PATCO as a union of air traffic controllers.

The Pressures of PATCO The need to have a voice in things affecting their life made PATCO membership and job actions the choices of the air traffic controllers. The jobs of air traffic controllers are extremely stressful due to their safety responsibility and long working hours. However, there was lack of recognition for the pressure they face and personal life they sacrifice. Adding to the grievance was the authoritarian management style in the workplace. Thus, the air traffic controllers felt a strong need to voice their complaints. With all the past job actions not heeded and a renewed negotiation with FAA came to no fruition, it is not too surprising that 95% controllers voted for a strike. On the other side of the table, FAA as employer of air traffic controllers did not seem to have done enough to alleviate the problem. They downplayed the

stress associated with the job. They tended to view air traffic controllerss complaints of working condition as PATCOs bargaining tactics for economic benefit. Even when Dr. Robert Rose, professor of Boston University, turned his research findings to FAA chief Loghorne Bond and suggested FAA to improve its labor relations, Mr. Bond did not seem to be interested. Peer pressure was also a factor contributing the strike. Air traffic controllers were young, strong and sociable. The nature of their work has given them opportunities to socialize among themself. In such a self-contained group, it was not difficult for PATCO to recruit memebers and pressure them to support the job actions. The change in leadership of PATCO in 1980 was perhaps main driver to the strike. Replacing John Laymen as PATCO president, Rober Poli had different philosophy in managing union affair. In Polis own word, he was more militant than his predecessor. His militant approach was evidenced by his ruling out of all future slow downs and establishment of strike force to help organize and lead the union[2]. He even went on saying, The only illegal strike is an unsuccessful one., despite the fact that federal law prohibit strikes by public service employees. Public unions grew rapidly in 1960s and 1970s. By 1980, 43.4% of public employees were unionized. Although PATCO was among the most influential public unions, during the strike there were no strong actions from other unions to show the support. One reason was simply that other unions feared of being

charged with violation of law. Another was the lack of solidarity within labor union leaders.

External Forces To understand the course of actions taken by PATCO and how it ended up with an unsuccessful strike, we also need to look at external forces at work. First of all, PATCO must work within the legal framework governing public employees union Unlike employees in private sector, government employees are not protected by National Labor Relation Act. This had put air traffic controllers in vulnerable position when it came to conflict with FAA. Even the Federal Labor Relations Act enacted in 1979, which aimed to give public union some collective bargaining power, prohibited public employees from bargaining over job related issues. As such, when facing labor dispute, it was logical for air traffic controllers to turn to PATCO and support the job actions. This same legal framework gave FAA a strong hand in dealing with PATCO. While it is debatable whether FAA was unfaithful in negotiating with PATCO, the fact that FAA had had an "incredibly detailed" legal strategy to deal with a possible strike undermines FAA's credibility. This point can be further illustrated by the ruling of Distric Court in Denver on crimnal indictments against local PATCO leaders. As the judge concluded : The selection of targets under these circumstances culminating in an ultimate hit list containing many top level unicon representatives is instinct with invidious motivations ....

In commenting on the decertification of PATCO by FLRA after strike, William Ford, Democrat, chair of the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, said: ... We have a combination of ferderal laws that provide no meaningful remedy for this kind of labor impasse, an impasse that adversely affects not only the economy, but the safety of the public and the defense of the nation. Secondly, political decisions of both PATCO and then Regan Administrations help to explain the outcome of strike and, to a lesser degree, the onset of strike. In 1980, The PATCO was one of only four AFLCIO affiliates to endorse the Ronald Regan as presidential candidate. In light of Republicans well known antiunion stance, PATCOs endorsement can only be explained by Ronald Regans letter to Robert Poli in which he denounced the state of air traffic control system and pledged that my Administration will work very closely with you to bring about a spirit of cooperation between the Presedent and the air traffic controllers.... By the same token, it is possible that PATCO migh have expected the Regan Administration to respond to the strike in an amicable way. On the contrary, Reagan Administration took a tough stand. The government had not only fired striking controllers who did not returned to work within 48 hours, but aslo banned them from any federal employment for the next three years. Reagan believed that the strike imperil public safety. But why not settle with union before the strike? Some obsevers believe that federal budget reigned over the demand of PATCO. In a time of recession, Ronald Reagans doctrine was that government was the problem not the solution.

Finaly, technology played a key role. It is interesting how technology had impacted the air traffic controllers, their jobs and eventually the handling of strike. In the early days, it was the obsolete equipments that concerned the air traffic controllers. They complained that little or no automation had been introduced, and near misses were common occurrence. However, technology advancement in later days had rendered air traffic controllers increasingly obsolete. By the spring of 1979, FAAs personnel analysis had shown overstaffing of air traffic controller. Most importantly, faced with confrontational PATCO, FAA clearly saw automation a means of eliminating skilled controller. In her article, The Pressures of PATCO: Strikes and Stress in the 1980s, Rebecca Pels argued that Only when the strike made it absolutely necessary did the FAA invest substantially in new technology after spending considerable effort on ensuring such equipment would mean less reliance on controllers' work. Indeed, on August 7, 1981 (the fifth day of the PATCO strike), the Wall Street Journal reported that the FAA hopes to install, at a cost of $2.8 billion, computers which will alert pilots directly in case of problem and instruct them automaticaally on changing course. Technology aside, the high unemployment rate at the time also made it easy for FAA to find permanent replacement for the dismissed striker. Almost from the firt day of the strike, the FAA was flooded with job applicants.(Air Traffic Controllers, by Ber A.Spector, HBS)

Analysis from Human Resource Perspective

Symptoms and Causes The case of air traffic controllers revealed many human resources problems. First, safety and health protection was not on FAAs top agenda. The working condition of air traffic controllers was stressful. This was manifested by the fact the 89% of controllers forced to retire early because of medical disability. Dr. Robert Rose conducted survey show that hypertension and considerable drinking off-hours were common among air traffic controllers. Despite these finding, FAA were indifference and made no improvement to the situation. Second, there was lack of recognition of controller's safety responsibility. Controllers often felt they were ultimately responsible for the safety of aircraft, but they could not exercise control neither management nor pilots listened to them. This coupled with FAA's autocratic management style had led to low morale and resentment. Third, the training, promotion and reward system was not adequate. Management training was eliminated because the budget cut. Promotions were based more on individual relationship than performance or managerial skills. As a result, supervisors' management style tend to be authoritarian and impersonal. The lack of due human resources development process caused resentment between controllers and their supervisors. The sentiment of controllers were reflected in Rober Polis words : First of all, controllers resent the fact that supervisors get paid the money they do because theyre a [civial servce] grade higher but dont work the airplanes. Thats ridiculous. They get that for filling out schedules and sitting down there. They

dont really provide supervision. Theres no need for it. They have too many supervisiors in areas where they could double the number of controllers the person superson supervises.... The FAA always fills those [supervisory] positions, but doesnt fill the controller positions. The negotiation between FAA and PATCO exposed other human resources problems. One question was related to good-faith bargaining in the process. There was suspicion that FAA had no real intention to negotiate. As discussed in previous paragraph, the pursuit of legal punishment on union leaders for their pro-strike behaviors was challenged for its motivation by US district court. Moreover, while negotiation was underway, FAA continued to push for computerization which would automate air traffic control system, a move viewed by PATCO as a threat to their jobs. On PATCO side, its demand for $10,000 increase in wage was outrageous in pulic eye. It might have been viewed as surface bargaining thus sent a reaffirming message to FAA that a strike was pending. Yet in fact, as many aftermath interviews of controllers had revealed, the controllers main issues were not about money but were about their voiceless and powerless role in job related matters[2]. It was a failure in PATCO for inability to articulate the real demand of air traffic controller and to win public support.

HR Policies and Procedures FAA did have a policy and procedure for employee recruiting and training program. Job candidates were required to be 18 to 30 years old, be a high school

graduate, have three years work experience in any jobs, pass aptitude and physical tests. The job requirements for air traffic controllers may be unique. However, FAA might want to consider more about workforce diversity. Its employees profole showed that 50% of FAAs employees had military background, while only 15% were women. New employees would participate in a 17-week intensive training. After that they would receive on-the-job training for 2 to 4 years until reaching full performance level. It was a time-consuming and costly process. It was not difficult to foresee that FAA would run into problems when it scrambled to fill positions of striking controllers.

Compensation Policy Air traffic controllers were given same sick leave, vacation days, and work week as all federal employees: 40 work hours per week; 19-26 vacation days; 13 paid sick leave days per year. Among western countries, the US ranked the longest in work hours while the shortest in vacations days and sick leave days. The air controller may retire at half pay at the age of 50 if they have worked for 20 years, at any age if they have worked 25 years. By contrast most other federal employees must be 55 with 30 years service, or 60 with 20 years service. By 1881, the pay range for FAA controllers was $20,447 to $49,229. The average salary for a fully qualified controller is $33000. But the maximum pay for a controller was $50112.50, which was pay cap for all federal civil service employees. The pay grades were comparable with Petroleum Engineer, with the

most experienced controllers paid one grade higher at GS-14. While not comparable with pilots who could make up to 115,000, air traffic controllers were among the well-paid federal employees.

Major Players Rober Poli, as PATCO president, had important yet controvertial role in PATCO strike. His militant style was no doubt a crucial factor in PATCOs labor strategy. He reached the top of PATCO after a policy dispute centered around the complaint that former PATCO president John Leyden had not been militant enough in his negotiations with the Government[7]. However, his own negotiation tactics proved to be ill-advised and failed to win public support. Some labor stragists blame the failure of strike on his naive thinking and ill-preparation for Regan Administraions harsh response. Ronald Reagan, while being called union buster and lier by some, was hailed by many others as being a decisive and strong president [4]. It seemed majority of people supported the his tough stand on PATCO strike. An expert in public emplyee labor relations for Columbia University commented that Regans handling of the strike would show all government employers how they could seize control of labor relations instead of merely reacting to union demands. The impact of Reagans handling of 1981 PATCO went even beyond public sector. In his recent article Echos of a broken strike on [5], Charles J. Walen wrote : In the immediate aftermath of the PATCO strike, many observers reported that Reagan's action marked a turning point in U.S. labor

relation. History has shown this assessment was right on the mark. If it is true that the strike is labor's "only true weapon," as some unionists suggest, then practically the entire movement has been disarmed. Drew Lewis, Regans Secretary of Transportation, was the chief negotiator for the government. He seemed to be firm and skillful in dealing PATCO strike. He showed strong support for Reagans decision.

Alternatives and Solutions

Privatization as An Alternative Privatization of air traffic control system was a viable solution to the problem. There were already private owned air control systeim in Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Germany. At a time when the nation was in recession and Regan himself felt that government was too big, it make sense to seek out privatization of some federal civil service. The then AFL-CIOs president Lane Kirland saw Regan Administrations handling of strike as inconsistent policy. He said: The air traffic control system is purely a subsidized service the government is providing for the private airline industry. Under the Regan doctrine of getting the government off peoples backs, youd think they might try to turn the whole thing over to the industry to run instead of using the might and majesty of the government to suppress a strike.

Privatized air traffic control system would eliminate goverment bueauracracy and let economic forces would kick in to maintain the balance. When facing a potential economic losses because of lengthy strike, airline industry might have to seek alternative solutions to the labor dispute. This was not to say that industry would yield to pressure of strike at any cost, but to suggest that it was in everybodys interest to look into the root causes of the problems and fix them to avoid a labor impasse.

Effective Human Resources Management Still, without privatization, many of problems can be resolved by human resources functions. It has been argued that FAAs dual mandate, to both look after safety and promote aviation, had contributed to its choice of management style. The boom of airline industry and promotion of aviation traffic often came at expense of air safety and pressure on air traffic controller. However, it was just because of this dual responsibility, FAA were in a better position to strike a balance if it had chosen to do so. The key is to pay attention to human resource functions such as job analysis, safety and health protection, performance appraisal and recognition, management skills coaching and training, etc. The job analysis helps understanding relationship between air traffic flow, safety, workloads, and the performance level of controller. Protectng safety and health of controllers will allow controllers to do better and more productive work to ensure smooth flow of air traffic and safety of aircrafts. Equipments upgrade, scientic flow-control, and health conseling can help accomplish the goal. Standard

performance appraisal and proper recognition will boost morale. Management coaching and training will change the style and improve employee-management relationship. More importantly, FAA shoud have done something different in managing labor relations. Instead of wielding the political power backed by law, Administration and FAA should listened more carefully to the grievance of air traffic controllers and worked with union to come up with solutions. One way to handle this is establishing a grievance procedure, including internal and external monitoring system. The ultimate goal was to recognize and respect basic human rights. It is strong recommended to set up a centralized human resources management organization in FAA to lead efforts in identifying human rights issues, educating employees and management in idetification of thes issues, and working to develop framework guidance on how to deal with these issues.

Labor Strategy From PATCOs pespective, it was an important lesson the it did not have well-thought-out strategy. Instead of immediately staging on strike, PATCO could have launched a corporate campaign to exert pressure on FAA and to gain support from other unions. Also, Polis negotiation stressing the monetary terms did not exactly reflect air traffic controllers main concern, i.e. stressful working conditions, autocratic management styles, and the lack of workplace voice. There should have been better communication between union leaders and its members so that everybody knew what they set out to do. Furthermore, Poli

and union negotiation team could have come up with their counter offer when FAAs final over were not accepted by union members. Doing so would possibly avoid a strike. Finally, engaging in a strike under the circumstances was a vialation of law after all. It would be prudent to do a thorough assessment of pro and cons of a strike. In the hindsight, Regans tough respone on PATCOs strike were not have surprised anyone. The political miscalculation and infexibility of bargaining stragety had caused air traffic controllers jobs and decertification of PATCO. Within the context of law, PATCO better choice might be to seek thirty party arbitration to solve issues related to working condition[6].


1. Air Traffic Controller, by Bert A. Spector, HBS 2. The Pressure of PATCO: Strikes and Stress in the 1980s, by Rebecca Pels URL: 3. A Framework for Human Resource Mangement, by Gary Dessler 4. In honor of Regan, by Brian Trumbore URL: 5. Echos of Broken Strike, by Charles J. Walen, 6. Topic 15: The Federal Government 7. Man in The News: Militant Controller Chief: Robert Edmond Poli, by Jonathan Fuerbringer, The New York Times.