Friday, December 16, 2011

Remembering in the House of Labor

I was honored to have an opportunity to speak about Collision Course on December 14 in the Samuel Gompers room at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO in an event hosted by the labor federation's president, Richard Trumka.  With me were two former PATCO strikers who lost their jobs in 1981, Elliott Simons, who worked then at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and Jim Morin, who worked at LaGuardia Airport in New York, as well as Ken Moffett, who headed the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in 1981, and who hosted the failed negotiations that preceded the controllers' walkout.  It was an emotional event for some of those who had been around in 1981.  Some PATCO strikers felt cut off from the rest of the labor movement thirty years ago, and for them it

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Offer PATCO Rejected: Answering a Query

Recently, I had a very good set of questions directed to me by a PATCO brother, whose knowledge and views I respect, asking about the way I characterized the offer that the Reagan administration made to the union in June 1981 (the offer the union ultimately voted down before deciding to strike).  This brother was skeptical about my account characterizing the offer as precedent-setting.  He remembered the offer as adding nothing at all to what controllers had prior to the strike.  My dialogue with him reminded me that the disjuncture between the way controllers saw the June offer (as giving them very little indeed) and the way neutral observers like the federal mediators Ken Moffett and Brian Flores saw it (they saw it as path-breaking) is one of the enduring puzzles of the PATCO story for those who want to understand the strike.  Which was it?  Path-breaking or completely inadequate?  In fact, as I discovered and explain in my book, the June offer was both.  Explaining this paradox helps put to rest two bogus myths about the strike: 1) that it was the result of controller greed and union overreach on the one hand; or 2) that it was the fruit of a prearranged plan by the Reagan people to trap and destroy PATCO as a way to undermine organized labor altogether.  In fact, neither of these myths is true.   The reality was more complicated, and more tragic.  To explain it, let me begin with the memo pictured above, which was written from Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis to White House counselor, Ed Meese, on June 11, 1981. (To follow this, read below the jump.) 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

One of the "Oklahoma City Five" Remembers

Among the most difficult things that striking air traffic controllers faced in 1981 was the prospect of prosecution for violating the law and leading a work stoppage against the United States government.   In the book, I wrote this about the emotions that one controller's family felt in confronting this prospect:  "As the clocked ticked down toward the strike vote, many tearful conversations took place in controllers' families.  'Daddy may even have to go to jail,' the wife of one Vermont controller told her children.  If he did, they should not 'be ashamed,' she said.  Instead, they should 'be very proud of him,' because if that happened it would be 'for a great cause.'"  
    In reality, of course, the prospect of defying the federal government was frightening, no matter how deeply one believed in the cause.   Recently, I received two e-mails from a controller who did defy the government on August 3, 1981, and suffered for it.  His name is Tim Berlekamp; he is currently President and CEO of Altec Limited, a consulting company that provides sustainable business solutions.  In 1981 he was one of the "Oklahoma City Five," a group of five strikers who were singled out and prosecuted for their actions (such prosecutions happened in a number of cities).  His reflections appear below the jump:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

An Actor/Musician Reflects on PATCO, Unions, and Strikes

This week I received an inspiring note from a former student of mine from back when I taught at SUNY-Geneseo.  His name is Lucas Papaelias, and he now makes his living as an actor and musician in New York City.   Lucas was moved by my account of the PATCO strike to talk about his own recent experiences during the 2007 strike by Broadway stagehands, members of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.  He explains why he supported that strike, even though it might have potentially cost him a chance to appear in a high-profile production with stars Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner.  He tells that story, goes on to explain how his other union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, came to his rescue in another dispute, and reflects on the importance of unions for all workers.  Here is what he wrote: 
i was unaware of the scope of the '81 PATCO strike.... i think it is an incredible subject matter and a true American story. it is inspiring, and got me to think of my own experiences.

in fall 2007, at the same time the Screen Actors Guild Writers strike was in full-swing, there was also an unprecedented strike conducted by the Local 1 stagehands union, which shut down most of Broadway for several weeks during november. the Actors Equity Association (my union since '00) was in full support of the strike, which affected me directly; i was making my Broadway debut at the time in a production of Cyrano de