August 3—30 Years Later and Still in the News—WHY?

On August 3, 1981, 85% of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) members went on strike against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Within hours, President Ronald Reagan ordered them back to work or lose their jobs. Roughly 10,000 thought he was bluffing and lost their jobs—permanently.

I’m not going to argue whether PATCO was right or wrong to strike. To do so would be… oops, I’m digressing. PATCO overwhelming rejected the FAA’s last offer which just went to prove the FAA’s point that air traffic controllers were a bunch of overpaid, under-worked crybabies, right? WRONG!

In less than six years the same problems and working conditions that plagued the now-unemployed PATCO controllers continued and caused the next generation of air traffic controllers to form a new labor organization, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). There are reasons the FAA continues to rank at the bottom of the list of government agencies, I’m not going to list any either, okay one or two: bloated, top-heavy, and incompetence.

One would think that as the post-strike controllers were promoted into management roles, working conditions would improve, as would the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency. One would think that, right? One would be wrong. Don’t get me wrong, there really are some individuals, and they know who they are, who have been promoted to different levels of management where, if given the chance, could make positive changes. But that’s a machine that can’t be changed. Then, there are the rest, who were promoted with the same Jurassic mindset that caused the FAA to be the worst agency in the federal government. Funny thing is, they think they’re in the first group.

Moving along: All those post-strike controllers are now becoming eligible to retire in record numbers and if the FAA isn’t careful, and they rarely are, they will see a staffing crisis close to the 1981 strike but this time it will be due to retirements. Retirements will outnumber new controller certifications causing the FAA to go into a self-inflicted, knee-jerk, overreaction mode. Oh wait, that means ops-normal.

Here we are, 30 years later, and the FAA is on the front page of the newspaper again now unable to get funding by our elected leaders in Washington DC. Over 4000 FAA employees and 70,000 construction and contract employees have been furloughed and will remain that way while Congress takes an August recess—I guess all that debt-ceiling wrangling wore them out. In the meantime, the FAA will lose $200 million a week in revenue. That seems fair to me, a month’s vacation to re-energize Congress for only $1 billion. I mean after all, it is the thing to do inside the Beltway. I’m sure I’ll pay for it somehow but it’s worth it, right?

Why couldn’t the FAA get funding before Congress recessed, you ask? Please redirect your question to the Congressman from Florida who stonewalled the issue until the debt ceiling issue demanded full attention. You’ll recognize him; he’s the one with the perennial bad hair day. Somewhere in that funding plan there’s a provision he won’t approve because it contains a  “union issue” clause.

Which takes you back to the beginning of this blog.


Interesting morsel of trivia: What is the theme song of the FAA?

Answer: The Song That Never Ends.


Special note to airlines: you know that ticket tax that expired but you kept charging passengers for under the guise of a fare increase…DON’T SPENT THAT MONEY! Uncle Sam will want it back. In case you haven’t been watching the news, they need the money.



  1. Ur_Mom on August 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    The NLRB changed the rules for organizing to let the unions have an easier time at getting Fedex. They are correcting a wrong and hope they hold their ground on the funding bill.

    • Chuck Barrett on August 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm

      “….. the most politically difficult issue involves a labor provision in the House long-term bill. Republicans want to overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that allows airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn’t vote were treated as “no” votes.

      Democrats and union officials say the change puts airline and railroad elections under the same democratic rules required for unionizing all other companies. But Republicans say the new rule reverses 75 years of precedent to favor labor unions.

      The GOP labor provision has the backing of the airline industry. The biggest beneficiary would be Delta Air Lines, the largest carrier whose workers aren’t primarily union members.

      Last month, in comments to the House Rules Committee and separately to reporters, Mica said the labor provision was the only issue standing in the way of the House and Senate reaching an agreement on a long-term FAA bill. He said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has refused to negotiate with Republicans on the issue.

      “There is only one issue — have I not been clear? It’s up to Mr. Reid,” Mica told the committee. He added that including the subsidy cuts to the extension bill “forces the Senate’s hand to act.”…..”

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