Reagan Fires Air Traffic Controllers


President Reagan fired 2,000 of the nation's striking air traffic controller, after they refused to return to work. The strikers defied the law that bars strikes by federal workers. The controllers rejected a proposed 11.4 percent annual wage increase. The failure of the strike was a major defeat for organized labor.

On August 11, 1981, President Reagan fired 13,000 flight controllers. The flight controllers had begun a strike two days earlier, which resulted in 7,000 flights being canceled nationwide in the middle of the summer rush. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) demanded a significant raise. They also wanted to reduce their five days 40 hour work week to three days 32 hour week. The FAA offered a package worth $40 million which fell far short of the $770 million that the controller demands would have cost.

In 1955, Congress made strikes punishable by fines or a one-year prison sentence. President Reagan declared the strike illegal. He warned the strikers that they would be fired if they did not return to work within 48 hours. A judge fined the union a million dollars a day. When the controller did not return to work, Reagan fired all of them. An emergency plan went into effect in which a combination of supervisors and military controller were able to take over, and within days air traffic was back to normal. The failure of the strike weakened the union fatally.