Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Launch Event at Georgetown, Oct. 18, 2011

At Georgetown University on October 18, 2011, I (standing at left) led a discussion with a distinguished panel of people whose interviews helped shape my book.  Seated from left are: Jim Stakem, strike leader at Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center (Washington Center) in 1981; Ken Moffett, Reagan-era director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who mediated the failed 1981 negotiations; Stan Gordon, who helped organize PATCO at New York Center in Islip, New York, in 1968; Richard Jones, formerly of Washington Center, who co-founded the Coalition of Black Controllers but did not participate in the 1981 strike; and John Leyden, who served as president of PATCO from 1970 to 1980. 
     We had a fascinating exchange regarding the strike and its long-term impact on both the controllers who lost their jobs in 1981 and on patterns of U.S. labor relations since.  For more on that event, click here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

From the PATCO Strike to the Wall Street Occupation

Thirty years later, it is clear that the PATCO strike was a turning point in recent U.S. history.  Will the Occupy Wall Street protests one day be seen as an equally important turning point, but of a different kind?   And why has organized labor, which has traditionally refrained from participating in leaderless protests of this sort, begun to lend some support to this movement.  I consider these questions in a recent blog post at Oxford University Press. To read it, click here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Case of Ron Palmer

On page 233 of my book, I included a few sentences about the case of Ron Palmer, a Miami controller who was accused in 1980 of giving an instruction to a Braniff pilot that pointed him into a thunderstorm in retaliation for Braniff's refusal to honor controllers' requests for familiarization flights on the airline.  I pointed out that an arbitrator looked into this case and cleared Palmer of the charge, which would have cost him his job had it been substantiated.  But FAA officials distrusted the arbitrator's judgement and saw the case as one more example of growing militancy in the controller ranks.  Now Ron Palmer, whom I had not had an opportunity to meet or interview before writing the book, has written to me to provide more documentation for his case than I was able to find in the records of PATCO or the FAA.  He sent me his explanation of what happened and an interview from the period that further explains how he came to be accused and nearly fired.  His story helps illustrate why so many controllers felt that the FAA was the aggressor in the year leading up to the strike, and why so many felt that they had to stand up to what they felt was government mistreatment.  His communication with me and a link to the documentation appears below the fold. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

An Unheeded Warning from 1969

Reader William Daugherty, a former air traffic controller, and a charter member of PATCO wrote to me to explain that the book brought back many memories.  One was of a 35-page report he himself had written in 1969 analyzing the growing conflict between the FAA and controllers and warning of its  consequences.  The paper was titled: "Air Traffic Controllers vs. the Federal Aviation Administration: Underlying Causes of Low Morale." He wrote it in the aftermath of the abortive sickout that controllers in a handful of FAA facilities launched in June 1969 in protest of the FAA's failure to honor promises made to PATCO during the previous summer.  That sickout, as I point out in my book, marked a sharp deterioration in labor relations at the FAA and led to a much larger job action in 1970.  In his report, Daugherty asks why the situation at the FAA  "has become intolerable to a dedicated group of air traffic controllers that historically have shown that they can operate a complex aviation system under adverse conditions?"  Unfortunately, Daugherty's warning went unheeded.  To read this interesting document in full, click here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Heartfelt Letter

I received a heartfelt e-mail from Ben Coons this week.  Ben worked as an air traffic controller at the Minneapolis ARTCC (Minneapolis Center), one of the biggest air traffic control facilities in the Midwest from 1970 to August 3, 1981, when he went out on strike.  To the left is a copy of his PATCO membership card.  Ben was a former president of PATCO Local 305.   Like a number of people I interviewed, he had doubts about the strike strategy, but he respected the picket line.  He also had doubts about PATCO's leadership, but he had no doubt that the built up frustration of the union's rank and file led to the strike.  "My biggest regret with the strike is what it has done to labor and the middle class," he wrote. "I firmly believe the transfer of wealth to the upper class and the loss of the middle class started with the PATCO strike in 1981.  At this point in time I'm not sure if anything can reverse the trend without a full scale labor push back."
       The people like Ben whom I interviewed for this book made a big impression on me.  They were people who were not the most outspoken advocates of a strike, people who believed that Reagan's Rose Garden speech on the morning the strike began made it unwinnable, but who nonetheless would not go back to work unless everyone went back.  They were prepared to put their careers on the line in an effort to protect their colleagues in the belief that all would stand a better chance of going back if they stuck together.  No matter what one's opinion of the 1981 air traffic controllers' strike, it's hard not to have some admiration for folks like Ben.  It seems to me that these are the kinds of people we'd want working together, watching each other's backs to keep the air traffic control system safe.  

Here is most of his letter to me in which he refers to John Leyden, president of PATCO 1970-80, Robert Poli, president of PATCO 1980-81, who took the reins of the union from Leyden, to his own experience preparing colleagues for the strike, and to his frustrations with his old employer, the Federal Aviation Administration: 

Professor McCartin,

When I learned of your book via the PATCO web site I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it.  I haven’t been to any of the many August 3rd reunions and I haven’t kept touch with many of my old colleagues.  Shortly after the strike I was somewhat embarrassed in not being able to explain adequately why we struck and how disastrous the outcome.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Striker and a Non-Striker Agree

One of the things I tried to do in this book was to give a 360 degree view of why this strike came about, why nearly 12,000 people risked not only their jobs, but their careers by walking out, and why several thousand of their coworkers did not join them.  Here are reactions to the book from one who struck and one who did not.

From Denny Harris, who was a "Horse" (a controller who participated in PATCO's 1970 sickout) at LA Center in Palmdale, Calif., and leader of PATCO at Seattle Center from which he was fired for his participation in the 1981 strike:

First off, Thank you for writing this book.  As a former president of Seattle Center (1972-1974) I was the one who won a successful de-certifying  effort, followed by certification of PATCO at that facility.  I was a HORSE in 1970, and a strike leader in '81.  Over time it has been increasingly hard to explain our efforts to family and especially friends of the whats and whys of our strike.  This book explains what went on extremely well.  Again thank you for your efforts in this book, brought back a lot of memories of times and friends.   Denny Harris  Class of '81.
Denny also forwarded to me a clipping (left) of himself and two of his co-workers at Seattle Center receiving the FAA's "We Point with Pride" award for saving the lives of a husband, wife, and infant child in an air emergency. He's the guy on the left.  This clip gives you a sense of the talent that was lost in the mass firing.  If you'd like to read the clip, click here.     

And from Alvin DeVane, retired air traffic controller, who did not strike in '81:
Professor McCartin, I just finished reading Collision Course and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it.
    I was hired by the FAA in 1974 and was a journeyman controller in San Antonio in August of 1981. After much soul searching, I chose not to strike.  Your book brought back memories and feelings I had not felt in a long time. From what I know and remember, you were right on target in Collision Course.