Paper Instructions

The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization or PATCO was a United States trade union that operated from 1968 until its decertification in 1981 following a strike that was broken by the Reagan Administration. Discuss two reasons why PATCO called the strike and discuss two reasons why the Reagan Administration intervened and broke this strike.

Government Intervention

           The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization was a trade union that catered to the needs of American Air Traffic Controllers. The labor union called for all their members to down their tools until their demands were met. The strike officially began on August 3rd 1981 (Schalch, 2006). One of the demands that the air traffic controllers had was a shorter work week. Specifically, the union was calling for a 32-hour workweek for all of its employees. The union was also calling for better pay for all of the members it represented. The organization was demanding a $10,000 pay increase for every member as well as significantly better retirement packages. As a result, more than 13000 PATCO members went on strike.

           The Reagan administration intervened and called off the strike. Reagan declared the strike illegal as it contravened the Taft-Hartley Act (Schalch, 2006). The Act made it illegal for federal employees to strike against the government. Thus, the workers were acting illegally by striking against their employer, the government. Reagan also maintained that the strike by the air traffic controllers was a threat to national security, as it left the American air space vulnerable to attacks as well as accidents. Reagan gave the controllers two days to return to work or be fired with immediate effect. Only about 1300 individuals decided to return to work when the strike was called for. As a result, more than 11000 air traffic controllers were fired and banned from federal service for the rest of their lives.

It should be noted that PATCO was a staunch supporter of Reagan when he was campaigning for presidency. This was because of the ailing labor relations that were the norm during Carter’s administration. Reagan had already endorsed the labor union and promised to improve these relations once he was elected president.


Schalch, K. (2006, Aug 3). 1981 Strike Leaves Legacy for American Workers. NPR. Retrieved on 12/9/2016 from 


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