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The Rise and Demise of PATCO

"The Rise and Demise of PATCO"

The article presents an argument that the primary goal of Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike aimed at addressing the rank-and –file work-related problems specifically through work week reduction and retirement system improvement. it seeks to argue that there was work-file frustration with autocratic form of management and that the FAA managers joined forces with Reagan administration to have PATYCO destroyed without taking into account alternatives that were less radical (Hurd & Kriesky, 1986) .

The PATCO Bargaining Objectives

The analysis by Northrup asserts that the main objective of PATCO’s strike was the determination of wages on a private sector model. However, the article argues that the major objectives of PATCO related to short-work week, wage gains and a better retirement plan. The article narrows the bargaining objectives to shortening of the work-week and improvement of the retirement system, which are supported by the UPI 1981 article which reported the likelihood of the contract to face rejection due to failure to address these main issues (Hurd & Kriesky, 1986).

The Role of FAA Management

The Northrup’s analysis failed to recognize the role of management in the conflict and only attributing it to the poor relationships with the organizations personnel. The article deeps further into the management’s problems which played a role in this strike and highlights issues related to working conditions and the failure of this management to understand the employee organizations’ role. The management practices led to various problems among the employees such as burn out, hypertension and job stress faced by air-controllers. The FAA management failed to accept the legitimacy of PATCO as an employee representative which made the union to respond with a confrontational and aggressive manner (Hurd & Kriesky, 1986).

Internal Dynamics of PATCO

The Northrup’s analysis had failed to clarify the changes that had taken place in PATCO which led to the strike. These changes involved the structure of the organization which saw its enhanced standing with employees. Membership had increased in the years before the strike to 94 percent of those eligible. The plan for the strike had started internally before 1981, which involved adoption of a new policy that required 80 percent of air traffic controllers to vote for any industrial action campaign. Choir boys were selected as activists who could influence rank-and –file and articulate well the positions of PATCO. The internal cohesiveness became so tight that it created a momentum which increased the possibility of a strike. The changes even ensured that no board members would vote for the contract and those who supported it might have been forced into resignation by members (Hurd & Kriesky, 1986).

The Reagan Administration Strategy   

The article argues that Reagan’s administration actions played a role in making reaching a negotiated settlement difficult. It did this through the Department of Transport which entered into a contract with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm that held a non-comprising approach to such labor negotiations. Secondly, J. Lynn Helms was appointed by Reagan as the head of FAA, and he had developed a strong ant-union stand earlier. The Reagan administration also resulted to firing of controllers and remained firm on this strategy while rejecting recommended alternatives that would allow negotiations. The hard-line attitude affected negatively the collective bargaining environment in the country(Hurd & Kriesky, 1986).


The FAA autocratic management led to increased militant nature of PATCO and the union internal activities became narrowly directed towards strike preparation. Reagan administration hard-line encouraged the FAA management stubbornness and these factors made the strike to be inevitable.



 Hurd, R., W., Kriesky, J., K., (1986). "The Rise and Demise of PATCO" Reconstructed:

 ILR Review. Sage Publications, Inc.  Vol. 40.1.

615 Words  2 Pages
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