Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Remembering Allegheny Flight 853

When I was at the Newberry Library in Chicago recently to talk about Collision Course, I had the good fortune of meeting David Sapadin, a controller who was fired from Cleveland Center in 1981 for participating in the strike, but who managed to get rehired using the appeals process of the Merit Systems Protection Board.  (As I point out in the book, only a very small select group of strikers were able to do this.)
   David is now retired from air traffic control.  But he continues to study its history.   He reminded me of an event that I did not write about in my book, but one that should not be forgotten.  It was the mid-air collision between Allegheny Airlines Flight 853 (a DC-9) and a single engine Piper PA-28 (tail number N7374J) over Indiana on September 9, 1969, resulting in 83 deaths.  (The debris field of this accident is pictured above.)  As a subsequent investigation showed, that event occurred in large part because the smaller plane failed to show up on controllers' radar.  This inadequate equipment was one of the chief concerns of the then recently-formed Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO).   David Sapadin studied that accident while a student at Ohio State in 1970 prior to his hiring at the FAA.  You can read the interesting paper he wrote back then discussing this event.  It is called "The Nightmare -- The MidAir" and you can find it here.   My great thanks to David.  If you'd like to get in touch with him, he can be reached at: dmsapadin@yahoo.com

Monday, January 23, 2012

Some Unwanted Attention

Today the Washington Post reported an odd story regarding John Hinckley Jr., who is still incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for having attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan (and seriously wounding others including James Brady) outside the Washington Hilton on March 30, 1981. 
    A court hearing was held today on whether Hinckley ought to remain incarcerated.  At the hearing, Secret Service agent Jason Clickner testified about what transpired when he followed Hinckley on October 16, on one of the periodic excursions Hinckley is granted from the hospital.  The agent reported that on this outing Hinckley entered a Barnes & Noble bookstore, went directly to the History section, and became fixated on a certain book he saw on the shelf there, the blue front cover of which featured a photo of President Reagan in its upper right corner.  Hinckley's fixation on the book gave the agent "goosebumps."  Read this bizarre story in full at this linkAnd for CNN's report on the affair click here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

50th Anniversary of Federal Sector Bargaining

Fifty years ago today, on January 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988.  That act helped change the course of American labor history by offering most federal workers the opportunity to form unions and bargain collectively for the first time.   At that point, few workers at any level of government had yet gotten their employers to accept collective bargaining.  Wisconsin, the first state to enact a state level law that gave goverment workers the right to bargain, had not done so until 1959.  Kennedy's action built on the Wisconsin precedent, and similar precedents set at the municipal level in New York City and Philadelphia.  Most states and localities had been reluctant to follow the example of these jurisdictions -- that is, until the federal government acted.  Although it applied only to federal workers, Kennedy's order helped break a log jam in states and localities around the country.  Soon more than half of the states followed Wisconsin's example, and city after city emulated New York and Philadelphia.  The largest wave of unionization in the postwar years--the organization of public sector workers--was suddenly underway.
    The Kennedy order has often been portrayed as a reward to organized labor, a quid pro quo offered by the president in return for labor's support in his narrow election victory over Richard M. Nixon in 1960.  As I show in Collision Course, this portrayal of the Kennedy order is filled with distortions.  In many ways the order fell far short of what the labor movement wanted (it did not give unions the right to bargain over wages and benefits, as some legislation being considered by the Congress would have done).  Indeed, labor's key negotiators felt sold out by the wording of the Kennedy order, which did not even mention "collective bargaining."  The defects of the order would create severe problems for one group of federal workers who tried to organize in the early 1960s, air traffic controllers.  The lack of strong protections in the order forced the controllers to become increasingly militant and to form their own independent union, PATCO, in an effort to surmount the problems they faced trying to get the government to listen to them.
     Its glaring defects notwithstanding, the Kennedy order still represented a huge advance over what preceded it.  And it is worth remembering on this anniversary.  Today in the Los Angeles Times I have an editorial considering the significance of this landmark event in U.S. labor history.  You can read my editorial in full here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

PATCO Writers Respond

One of the most interesting parts of my research for this book was discovering the number of fired air traffic controllers who turned to writing to make sense of their experience.  I have learned a lot from these PATCO veterans.  Some wrote novels.  Others wrote memoirs.   Some penned screen plays.  Most of them were never published.  Indeed, most were never finished.  But for many PATCO families, strike veterans, and people curious about what happened in 1981, the memories preserved by these writings can be quite revealing.
     Recently, I heard from two PATCO veterans whose work I read as part of my research.  One of them was Terry Paddack whose novel, Crossing Runways, is pictured above and can be found on Amazon at this link. Terry wrote to say that he had enjoyed Collision Course.  And he shared the review he wrote of the book on Amazon.  "As a fired air traffic controller and PATCO striker, I found myself reliving the emotional and sometimes painful of memories and loss of the people who are no longer with us," he wrote.  I was happy to see Collision Course favorably reviewed in the New York Times, of course.  But the author of that review, Bryan Burrough, had no deep knowledge of air traffic controllers or labor, and certainly had not experienced this story the way Terry did.  So in many ways it is even more gratifying to receive a favorable review from Terry, who, as he said, "lived this story."  You can read his full review here.    
     Most of the PATCO veterans who did write about their experiences either never finished their projects or never brought them to publication.  Still, some of these unpublished works are enormously informative.  One of the best unpublished PATCO memoirs I read was a 428 page manuscript called "One Strike and You're Out," by Robert E. Lambrecht, who worked at Chicago Center.  Robert was the other PATCO writer I've heard from recently.  His own unpublished manuscript was detailed and revealing.  Among other things, it gave me one of the best accounts I found regarding how he and his generation of controllers learned to do the work.  Recently Robert wrote to say he enjoyed my book:  "If there was ever a book written which needs to be considered the 'Bible for Labor' and to be seriously read and understood by Non-management workers in America, it would be Collision Course in my humble opinion," he said.  I'm grateful for his endorsement (and for his encouragement over the years I worked on the book).  He sent a very thoughtful three-page statement on his own experience and reflection 30 years later.  It can be read in full at this link.
   I'm thankful that Terry and Robert took the time to write and I'm very pleased to recommend them and their writing to anyone who wants to learn more about what it was like to live the history I wrote about.