Thus, there's been no mention of the recent congressional foolishness with the FAA's budget, despite the fact that it has resulted in a partial shutdown of the agency - idling some 4,000 FAA employees and putting the brakes on over 200 construction projects across the nation. The shutdown costs the government about $30 million per day in uncollected ticket-tax revenue. The biggest sticking point? Cuts to the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes airline service to rural communities who otherwise would have none. The amount of funding that some are trying to cut: $16.5 million. That's about half of the amount of ticket-tax revenue that won't be collected today alone. And this has been going on for the better part of two weeks now - so far.
But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Instead, I want to mark an anniversary. It was 30 years ago today that the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike. I'm not taking a position on the action one way or the other, simply observing the date. I am a member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), which is the union now representing the majority of the nation's air traffic controllers. To mark the anniversary, NATCA sent out this statement to its members:
The date was August 3, 1981. Thousands of men and women across the country walked the line under the hot summer sun, holding cardboard signs that read “On Strike,” chanting and demanding an equitable contract. Thirty years ago today, our PATCO Brothers and Sisters took a heroic stand against substandard working conditions, inadequate staffing and unfair work and pay rules. Over 13,000 professional air traffic controllers, 79 percent of the workforce, walked the picket line in hopes of improving their professions and to ensure that the National Airspace System remained the safest and most efficient in the world.
It’s difficult to imagine the situation in which these men and women found themselves. The loss of income that supported PATCO families did not overshadow the loss of a job they loved. Our PATCO Brothers and Sisters took a stand with a firm vision of the bigger picture, and they paid dearly for their dedication to our profession.
Shortly after their firings, the Department of Transportation released a staffing report, noting that air traffic controllers staffing dropped from 16,375 to about 4,200. As the FAA began hiring thousands of new controllers, the past loomed like a shadow. Six years later, on June 19, 1987, NATCA was officially certified as the exclusive bargaining unit representative for FAA air traffic controllers - born from the ashes of our past, ready to forge a new labor future for the air traffic workforce.
PATCO controllers who lost their jobs made a sacrifice that still resonates through our profession. On this solemn anniversary we should all pause and look back with gratitude to our PATCO Brothers and Sisters for making that incredible sacrifice. Because of their beliefs and conviction, the National Airspace System remains the safest, most efficient system in the world.
NATCA owes a great deal to the members of PATCO. The sacrifices of our PATCO Brothers and Sisters, and the lessons learned from those sacrifices, must never be forgotten. We must continue to reach out and educate our newest members. We must not take our jobs or our union rights for granted. We must remember that history can only teach us if we remember it accurately and continue to keep PATCO’s indelible story alive in our collective memory. Join us in honoring them today and thanking them for all that they did.
I was hired in 1992, and was in the very last training class of the thousands of replacement controllers hired; it took ten years to rebuild the nation's controller workforce. I've gotten to work with some of the former PATCO controllers, and they've been great guys. All had their lives irrevocably changed by the strike and its aftermath. As a result of their action, I have a job with better pay, working conditions, facilities, and equipment. That means a safer air traffic system for everyone. Thanks guys.