The PATCO strike began on August 3, 1981 with over 13,000 people walking out. This "illegal" act was met with a quick response from President Ronald Reagan (Sconberger p 1). Reagan told the strikers, "Either return to work within 48 hours or be fired from government service for breaking the 'oath of office' not to strike (Sconberger, special report, p. 12). While roughly 1,200 workers returned to work, another 12,000 remained on strike and were promptly fired (Sconberger p 1). This caused a serious safety problem for the airlines, inconveniences for many Americans, and lost profits for many businesses. Controllers needed to be replaced and it needed to be done fast. As a result, their were many questions on the safety of airlines. In order to understand the effects of the strike on the safety of airlines, an understanding of the PATCO movement is necessary.
The Rise and Fall of Unions in America
The union labor movement blossomed early in the century, as membership grew from 2.0 million members in 1910 to 18.0 million members in 1953. However, by 1980 membership was only slightly higher at 20.0 million members. During that time, membership growth was relatively consistent in that it never really declined a significant amount. After 1980, union membership began to decline sharply. In 1985 membership was already back down to 18 million members and by 1990, the number of union members was hovering near 16 million members. As a percentage of the total employment in the economy, unions grew from only 13% in 1935 to 32% in 1953 and have fallen steadily since 1955. In 1980, labor union roles had decreased to 23% and by 1990, the figure had shrunk even further to only 16% Overall, union influence had already fallen sharply by the time of the PATCO strike. The PATCO continued the problems which unions were having and probably contributed to the continued weakness of the union movement in the United States. (Reynolds p 421).
Airline History: Prior to PATCO
The nations air traffic controllers became organized in 1968. Like many Americans, they wanted 8 hour days, better pay, and 5 day weeks. However, unlike many unions in America, PATCO's industry was highly regulated and subject to frequent political scrutiny. In 1958, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) was created in order to improve safety in the rapidly growing airline industry. This had become a growing concern as the airline industry took off. However, in 1963, there was a major collision in midair, which could have been prevented by air traffic controllers. Since 1961, no new air traffic controllers had been hired, even though the number of flights had been increasing rapidly. Also, controllers were being forced (under the threat of being fired) to work six days a week for upwards of 10 hours per day. Also, a lot of equipment was "archaic" and...