The Professional Air Traffic Controllers’ Organization, or PATCO, was a union organization with its roots in fighting for the labor rights of the national air traffic controllers. Since its creation in 1968, PATCO had many conflicts with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over labor issues. Over many years between 1969 and 1981 PATCO proceeded with slowdowns, sickouts and other protests with the FAA.
In February of 1981, negotiations for a new contract opened between PATCO and the FAA. The President of PATCO, Robert Poli, came in strong and had numerous complaints and demands that PATCO wanted addressed. Some of the issues at hand for PATCO were the decrease of hours from a 40-hour workweek to a 32-hour workweek, a ten thousand dollar pay increase across the board for all air traffic controllers, and a better benefit package for the retiring. As the months went by and no progress was being made, it became more evident that PATCO was preparing to strike.
On August 3rd, 1981, PATCO members walked out and began striking after months of unsuccessful contract negotiations. Eighty-five percent of the air traffic controllers went on strike that day. In retaliation to the strike President Ronald Reagan warned the air traffic controllers that striking was an illegal act and that any air traffic controllers who continued to strike would be immediately terminated. Forty-eight hours later, the majority of the air traffic controllers were fired. To further underscore his point, President Reagan permanently banned all striking air traffic controllers from ever working in the profession again. The strike continued until PATCO could no longer bear the strike costs. In the end, President Reagan broke the air traffic controllers’ strike of 1981.
One of the stronger points that PATCO argued was that there would be disastrous crashes by planes and immense air port delays with out the help of qualified air traffic controllers. Unfortunately for PATCO, this “rain of metal” never came. The FAA had devised a contingency plan and with the assistance of the remaining air traffic controllers and the U.S. military, mid air plane collisions did not increase and for the most part delays were avoided. The lack of manpower did however lead to an increased workweek and mandatory over time for the remaining air traffic controllers.
Eventually, the remaining air traffic controllers joined another union named NATCA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. NATCA would continue to represent laborer’s issues, but PATCO would not participate. Years went by, and the ban of all striking air traffic controllers continued. It was only when President Bill Clinton removed the strike ban that the air traffic controllers were allowed to go back to work. Even though the air traffic controllers are officially allowed to work at airports again, many feel that they are still being black listed. Interestingly enough, PATCO continues to “live” today and has a website dedicated to the strike in 1981.
Description of Collection
The collection consists of 2.5 linear feet. It is an incomplete collection, but covers the period 1969–1982, with the bulk of the material from 1979–1981. There are ten series.
The documents in this collection are some of the remaining files of PATCO Local #246. Although some documents may help researchers looking to study the PATCO organization, or more generally, federal workers’ unions, the PATCO collection will be of primary interest to those seeking information on the strike of 1981. The Publications files contain a compilation of publicity materials, and PATCO publications, including an incomplete "journal," which traces the evolution of the strike. The Political series contains pertinent correspondence between PATCO and Washington, most notably President Reagan. Finally, the Support series is of interest because it contains documentation of union and outside support or opposition of the PATCO union before and during the strike.
Additionally, the collection contains general records of the organization, including administrative, financial, and membership information, as well as some more specific legal documents, including individual case files and grievances.
Organization and Arrangement
This collection is organized into 10 series:
III. Human Resources
VIII. Publications— Internal
IX. Public Relations
Series I. Administrative: This series is comprised of PATCO files that pertain to offices involved in planning, organizing, directing, and budgeting of the agency. This series includes three sub series: Correspondence, General, and Minutes. The Correspondence sub series includes communications from four different administrative levels: The Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration, The Facility Representatives Level, The Presidential Level, and the Vice-Presidential Level. The General sub series consists of A Facility Representative’s Overtime Case-File, a Facility Representatives Manual, and a Miscellaneous file, which contains general administrative papers. The final sub series, Minutes, contains the meeting minutes of the Executive Board, Financial Committee, General Members, National Constitution Committee, the Union, and other miscellaneous assemblies. Files within sub series are arranged alphabetically and papers within folders are arranged chronologically.
Series II. Financial: The Financial series contains various records which reflect monetary activities of the PATCO organization. Included are several tax reporting documents, a few weeks worth of dues lists, bank statements and cancelled checks, miscellaneous receipts of general purchases, a short list of employee premiums for Springfield life insurance, and a selection of treasure's reports. Files are arranged alphabetically by category and chronologically within folders.
Series III. Human Resources: This series consists of general personnel-related files including: accident reports, general membership information, insurance benefits, labor management and grievance arbitration, lists of employees, and miscellaneous paperwork. Files are organized alphabetically by title and the papers within are organized chronologically. May contain sensitive materials— i.e. Social security and phone numbers.
Series IV. Legal: This series consists of a legal seminar paper, government bills and resolutions, contracts and forms for PATCO, Court cases and hearings, and a sub series containing specific case files involving Kent Mitchell, John Anderson, Fred Burkins, the FAA, and PATCO general grievances. There are eleven files in this series ranging mostly from the years of 1977 to 1981. Within the general grievance file there is a complaint that is dated 1969. Files are arranged alphabetically by category and chronologically within folders. May contain sensitive materials— i.e. Case files.
Series V. Miscellaneous: This series consists of random papers that did not necessarily fit into other series or files. The file primarily consists of handwritten notes without titles. The best assessment of when the file created is 1980-81. There is one file in this series, including one audiovisual item entitled No Margin For Error.
Series VI. Political: This series consists of statements and testimonies from various officials within PATCO as well as from outside sources. There are also political correspondence between Senators, letters to President Reagan, and letters to Congressmen from PATCO and other officials. There are four files in this series arranged alphabetically by category and chronologically within folders. The files date from 1979 to 1981.
Series VII. Publication-External: This collection is of particular interest to those researching the air traffic controller's strike and controversy of 1981. It is a collection of news clippings, television transcripts, and periodical articles covering the air traffic problems, work conditions, issues leading up to the strike, and the strike itself. The majority of the materials cover the time right before and during the strike— 1980-81. Also included in the series is a 1970 manual on collective bargaining in federal employment. The files are arranged alphabetically by category and chronologically within folders.
Series VIII. Publications—Internal: This series contains newsletters, handbooks, and educational guides produced by various groups within PATCO's organization between 1974 and 1981. This file is particularly interesting as it portrays the thoughts and motivations of the union's members up to and through the strike of 1981. There is also a book entitled PATCO's First Decade, which may be useful for those interested in the organization's general history. The files are arranged alphabetically by title or category and chronologically within folders, if applicable.
Series IX. Public Relations & Fund Raising: This series consists of a single file, which contains press releases from the agency and papers relating to fund raisers for the betterment of the organization. The papers of this file were organized with respect to all detectible chronological order.
Series X. Support: This series consists of support from various agents. Within the series are files pertaining to: strike information, public support, support from outside unions, contributions from outside unions, and general contributions. There is also one file containing correspondence of those opposing PATCO. Lastly, within the support series is the memorabilia file, which consists of evidence of various objects in support of PATCO, such as T-shirts, pins, jewelry, and posters. The dates of the files are from 1979 to 1981. There are seven files in the series, which are arranged alphabetically by category and chronologically within folders.
|Series I: Administration|
|Correspondence||1||Department of Transportation/FAA||1980-1981|
|2||Facility Representative Level||1979-1981|
|General||12||Facility epresentative's Manual||1980|
|Minutes||6||Executive Board Meetings||1979-1981|
|8||General Membership Meetings||1978-1981|
|9||National Consitution Committee||1978-1981|
|Series II: Financial|
|15||Department of Labor Reports & Internal Revenue|
|16||Department of Labor Reports||1977-1978|
|19||National Savings and Trust||1978|
|20||National Savings and Trust||1979|
|26||General Membership Information||1969, 1979|
|28||Labor Management and Grievance Arbitration||1969-1980|
|29||List of Employees||1978-1881|
|Series IV: Legal|
|Case Files||1||Federal Aviation Agency||1980-1981|
|4||John G. Anderson||1981|
|5||John David Hinkel||1981|
|General||7||Contract And Forms||1979-1981|
|8||Court Cases and Hearings||1981|
|9||Government Bills and Resolutions||1977-1981|
|10||Seminar Papers||No Date|
|11||Statements and Proceedings||1980-1981|
|Series V: Miscellaneous|
|Series VI: Political|
|BOX 2||13||Letters to Congressman||1981|
|14||Letters to President Reagan||1981|
|16||Statement and Testimony||1979-1981|
|Series VII: Publications-|
|17||Collective Bargaining in Federal Employment||1970|
|Series VIII: Publications-|
|21||Coordinators of Legislative Education Handbook||1978|
|22||Facility Guide 1 of 3||1974|
|23||Facility Guide 2 of 3||1974|
|24||Facility Guide 3 of 3||1974|
|25||Facility Guide||No Date|
|26||"Journal of Strike"||1981|
|27||Labor Relations Monitor||1980-1981|
|30||Newsletters Local 258||1979-1980|
|31||"Open Mike" Local 246||1975-1980|
|34||"PATCO's First Decade"||1977|
|35||Philadelphia Tower Standard||1976|
|Series IX: Public|
|1||Public Relations and Fundraising||1980-1981|
|Series X: Support|
|3||Contributions and Other Support||1978-1981|
|4||Letters Against PATCO||1979-1981|