Labor Watch

Labor Watch March 2016: PATCO’s Revenge: Capitol Hill cronyism may give the air traffic controllers what they always wanted

PATCO’s Revenge
Capitol Hill cronyism may give the air traffic controllers what they always wanted [PDF here]
by Steven J. Allen

UPDATE: After this article went to press, this happened:
ATC Privatization Bill Thrown Out
FAA maintains control over air traffic control, for now.
By Pia Bergqvist

A sigh of relief could be heard last week by many in the aviation industry as the bill that, if passed by Congress, would have privatized air traffic control was tossed out. At least for now. ATC privatization has been a high priority for the Committee’s chairman, Bill Shuster, who is known to be closely linked with Airlines for America, an organization in favor of privatizing ATC services. A4A’s president and CEO Nicholas Calio has worked for years with Shuster to transfer air traffic services away from the FAA, claiming that the agency is incapable of putting through NextGen, the modernization of the air traffic control system. General aviation alphabet groups lobbied heavily against the bill as the suggested not-for-profit ATC services organization would have been governed by an airline-centric board and funded by user fees. With the FAA funding running out at the end of March, a temporary extension is expected soon while the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee drafts a new FAA reauthorization bill.

  • Robert Poole, Searle Freedom Trust Fellow and director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, responded to this article. Click HERE for the response. 

Here’s the article from the March Labor Watch:

Summary: Momentum is building behind a fake “privatization” of air traffic control proposed by a second-generation congressman whose family is notorious in Washington for wheeling and dealing and for extremely close relationships with lobbyists. The scheme would create a “Fannie Mae of the Air” authority that would be insulated from public accountability and beholden to a powerful union—a union that Ronald Reagan faced down in one of the most consequential political fights of the 20th Century.

In 1981, the air traffic controllers union, PATCO, went on strike and held hostage the safety of the flying public. President Reagan fired the controllers and broke the union. It was a pivotal moment, arguably altering the course of history at home and abroad. Now, Washington politicians and lobbyists, testing the bounds of ethical behavior, are working feverishly to create an unaccountable, special-interest-controlled monopoly “corporation” to run the nation’s air traffic control system—one that would give the controllers’ union the deal of a lifetime.

Straddling the realms of federal and private-sector employment, the controllers would get the benefits of both—high salaries and pensions, government-level job protection, and an end to the ban on strikes.

Call it PATCO’s Revenge.

Controllers strike!
Air traffic controllers are, in the most-cited definition, “people trained to maintain the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic in the global air traffic control system.” In the popular mind, they’re the people, often ensconced in towers at airports, responsible for making sure that airplanes don’t fly into each other.

In the U.S., the Army and the Post Office developed radio-based systems that led to the nation’s first Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower, regulating the movement of planes at a specific airport in Cleveland in 1930. Soon, ATC grew into systems regulating air traffic from departure to destination, beginning with the first Air Route Traffic Control Center in Newark in 1935. By the 1950s, radar was in use to control airspace around major airports.

The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) was founded as a professional association in 1968 with the assistance of attorney F. Lee Bailey, who was famed for the Sam Sheppard and Boston Strangler cases and, later, for the Patty Hearst and O.J. Simpson cases. From the beginning, PATCO made trouble, declaring “Operation Air Safety” on July 3, 1968, a work-to-the-rule protest in which controllers adhered strictly to established standards for keeping aircraft separated. That led to significant delays.

The Federal Aviation Agency (now Administration) agreed to a voluntary payroll deduction for PATCO dues, on condition that the group remain a professional association. But in January 1969, the U.S. Civil Service Commission declared PATCO to be a union instead. In June, PATCO conducted a three-day protest in which many members called in sick, it being illegal for government workers to strike. In March 1970, another “sick-out” involved a reported [Click HERE for the rest of the article]

Tags:  PATCO

Dr. Steven J. Allen

A journalist with 45 years’ experience, Dr. Allen served as press secretary to U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton and as senior researcher for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. He earned a master’s…
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