Sunday, March 25, 2012

The 42nd Anniversary of the "Easter Rebellion"

Forty-two years ago today, on March 25, 1970, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) launched a nation-wide sickout to protest an effort by the Federal Aviation Administration to forcibly transfer PATCO's leaders at the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, airport.  The move was an effort by the FAA to weaken PATCO in the south.  This job action came hard on the heels of the 1970 postal workers' wildcat strike, and caused great controversy.  More than 3,000 controllers took part in the job action, which was illegal.  Most were suspended and docked pay, and some lost their jobs temporarily (until a secret back room deal between labor and the Nixon administration brought about their rehiring).  Those who took part in the sickout/strike were known as "horses" and proudly wore this pin on the anniversary of their job action in the years thereafter (photo courtesy of Ron Taylor).   
      The "Easter Rebellion," as many controllers called it given that it spilled into that holiday, in many ways completed PATCO's transformation into a union.  In some ways it also set the stage for PATCO's later miscalculation, fostering the belief that Reagan's administration too would cut a backroom deal rather than fire everyone who walked out on August 3, 1981.  Today is a day to remember how a poorly designed federal labor relations system courted trouble in one of the nation's most important agencies, increasing the likelihood of a disastrous national strike the legacy of which still lingers. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

One Former Controller's Story

This week I heard from Steve Pohowsky, a former member of PATCO local 262 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in Pennsylvania who lost his job for striking in 1981.  He is pictured at left with fellow striker Mike Duvall.  Steve's story is particularly interesting because he had been on the job for less than a year when he struck.  As he told me, he "spent more time with the other controllers on the picket line than I did in the tower."
   Here is what he wrote to me about his story:
Thank you so much for writing an absolutely wonderful book on the Air Traffic Controller strike of 1981.  I had always hoped that someone would write a fair book about this watershed event in labor history.  I was one of the controllers fired by the President.  Reading your book brought back many of the emotions I felt during that time period.   I’ll admit my eyes went misty reading the last two chapters because I lived through all you wrote.  I related to all the former controllers you mentioned.  This was part of my past I tried to bury.  Thank you for reminding me where some of my current independence and strong will came from.
        I joined the FAA at age 25 in September 1980 after 4 years as a air controller in the Air Force.  I finished 2nd in my class at the FAA Academy and was placed at the