Bob Butterworth, was a PATCO leader in the San Francisco Bay Area when the strike occurred on August 3, 1981. He was fired for defying President Ronald Reagan's ultimatum. He later regained employment with the FAA as an Air Traffic Controller after President Bill Clinton lifted the ban on the rehiring of PATCO strikers, and he became an activist in the union that succeeded PATCO at the FAA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Butterworth, known as "Pres," to many of his PATCO-era friends and colleagues, was one of the most important subjects I interviewed for Collision Course. In a guest blog written for this Labor Day he gives his perspective on PATCO as a product of the turbulent 1960.
The Air traffic controllers strike in 1981 by members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) has become the battle cry for Unionism both private and public. The reaction to this strike by Ronald Reagan with the firing of 11,000 controllers has become a rallying point for union organizing. So where did it all start?
Prior to 1968 most Air traffic Controllers were former military controllers that had become all too familiar with the military management style and were not surprised to find a continuation of that dictatorship manner of supervision present when they were hired by the FAA. It was dealt with in a “What choice do we have” kind of mentality with an added fear of the consequences of speaking out against such demeaning and counter-productive supervision. “After all, we work for the government, we can’t organize!” This feeling was prevalent among many government employees well beyond Air Traffic Controllers, at that time.