This Month in NATCA/Labor History
Thursday, August 30, 2012


August 3, 1981 — PATCO strike begins: The walkout starts at 7 a.m. Eastern time after telephone polling of union halls indicates PATCO has met its strike-vote goal by a paper-thin margin of 80.5 percent. Nearly 13,000 controllers—about 85 percent of the union’s membership and 79 percent of the work force—honor the picket line. Later that morning, President Reagan announces the controllers must return to their jobs within 48 hours or they’ll be fired because it is illegal for government workers to strike.

Military controllers are deployed to civilian facilities and supervisors step in to handle traffic. Even so, airlines cancel more than 6,000 flights out of a daily total of 14,200.

A federal court impounds PATCO’s $3.5 million strike fund. Another federal judge imposes fines on the union that could total $4.75 million in a week. The next day, Federal Judge Thomas C. Platt in New York fines PATCO $100,000 an hour for defying a 1970 injunction against striking.

August 5, 1981
— PATCO strike ends: About 875 controllers return to work. More than 11,350 lose their jobs; most appeal the action and about 440 are reinstated over the next two-and-a-half years. According to the Transportation Department, full-performance level (journeyman) and developmental controllers dropped 74 percent—from 16,375 to about 4,200.

The FAA institutes “Flow Control 50,” which requires the airlines to cancel about half of their peak-hour flights at 22 major airports. In-trail restrictions at the centers increase from the normal 10 miles to as much as 100 miles. IFR flights are prohibited for general aviation planes weighing 12,500 pounds or less. VFR aircraft are prohibited from entering airspace around major airports known as Terminal Control Areas. Other general aviation traffic must reserve flight plans on a first-come, first-served basis.

August 12, 1993
— PATCO strike aftermath: President Clinton announces that controllers fired for participating in the walkout 12 years ago may reapply for employment with the FAA.

August 23, 2000
— NATCA organizing: The FLRA certifies NATCA as the exclusive bargaining representative for the FAA’s occupational health specialists, occupational health nurses and medical program assistants.

Aug. 31, 2000
— NATCA organizing: The FLRA certifies NATCA as the exclusive bargaining representative for 300 FAA workers in the Airports Division and airport district offices.


1914: The Panama Canal opens after 33 years of construction and an estimated 22,000 worker deaths, mostly caused by malaria and yellow fever. The 51-mile canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

1935: President Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act, providing, for the first time ever, guaranteed income for retirees and creating a system of unemployment benefits.

1938: Police in Hilo, Hawaii open fire on 200 demonstrators supporting striking waterfront workers. The attack became known as the “Hilo Massacre.”

1939: Hatch Act is passed, limiting the political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government.