Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Safety and Health files [Series XIII]
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Scope and Content of Series XIII: Safety and Health Files
The Safety and Health Files (1957-1982) contain correspondence, internal memorandum, news clippings, and other materials regarding health and safety in the air traffic control profession. Part of the series is composed of individual files dealing with health issues like emotional distress, harassment, radiation, substance abuse, asbestos, and other medical issues that made controllers ill or caused them to retire or suffer disability. In addition to these personnel files, which are restricted, this series contains extensive correspondence files regarding PATCO’s health insurance plans, workers’ compensation, and occupational health and safety.
The Safety and Health series also contains two sections of material about the Second Career Program and substance abuse. Both of these interlinked issues played an important role in fomenting the 1981 strike, and the materials in this series detail both PATCO’s efforts and the importance the organization placed on these issues.
- Creation: 1957-1985
Restrictions on Access
Collection is open for research use. Access to materials with personal or sensitive information is restricted for 75 years from the date of creation.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Georgia State University is the owner of the physical collection and makes reproductions available for research, subject to the copyright law of the United States and item condition. Georgia State University may or may not own the rights to materials in the collection. It is the researcher's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and obtain permission from the copyright holder before publication, reproduction, or display of the materials beyond what is reasonable under copyright law. Researchers may quote selections from the collection under the fair use provision of copyright law.
Collection is stored offsite. Allow at least 2 working days for retrieval.
History of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization
The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) was formed in the New York area in 1968 to represent the interests of federally employed air traffic controllers. The objectives of the organization were to preserve and promote the profession; to improve working conditions for air traffic controllers within the United States, its territories, and possessions; and to represent its members in dealing with the Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other agencies concerning grievances, personnel policies, practices and other matters. In 1981, though as federal employees it was illegal for them to do so, PATCO members went on strike. Over 11,000 controllers were subsequently dismissed.
Wages, work hours, and retirement were the significant issues for the PATCO rank and file in their 1981 negotiation with the FAA. Members wanted an across-the-board $10,000 salary increase (base pay for a controller was then $20,462). PATCO President Robert Poli also wanted the 40-hour five-day week reduced to a 32-hour four-day week without a decrease in salary. Controllers deemed the shorter work week their most important issue, because they hoped it would reduce the on-the-job stress that many of them experienced. They also wanted a change in retirement requirements because they claimed that controllers experienced "burn out" faster than other federal employees. The government refused to discuss the last two demands. An agreement was reached by June 22 that called for a 10% pay hike for controllers, a 20% increase in the nighttime work pay differential, and a guaranteed 30-minute lunch period. Though Poli had managed to get a few more benefits, he felt the overall package was not enough. When it went to a vote, 95% of his members rejected the pact. Though the two sides went back to the bargaining table on July 31, neither seemed willing to budge. On August 3, 1981, the 15,000-member Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization went on strike.
Because PATCO members were responsible for guiding commercial airline flights throughout the United States, the strike caused confusion, long delays, and worries about air travel safety. Furthermore, as federal employees, PATCO members by law were not permitted to strike. On August 5, the federal government issued dismissal notices to over 11,000 controllers who refused to return to their jobs. To President Ronald Reagan, the air traffic controllers had quit their jobs by striking illegally. Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis said, "To all intents and purposes, the strike is over. Our concern is to rebuild the system."
On August 6, a federal judge imposed a fine of $2.4 million per day (later reduced) on PATCO as long as the strike lasted. The government also obtained a court order that barred the union from using its $3.7 million strike contingency fund and began proceedings to have it decertified. Union members and other unionists claimed that the government was union busting. New workers were quickly trained and installed as air traffic controllers and in October, PATCO was decertified and dissolved. The PATCO strike and firing was one of the most significant and controversial episodes involving the American labor movement during the era.
On August 12, 1993, President Bill Clinton, by an executive order, lifted the ban on rehiring PATCO controllers who had been fired twelve years earlier.
Presidents of PATCO
- James E. Hayes
- John F. Leyden
- Robert E. Poli
- Gary W. Eads
Executive Vice Presidents
- Robert E. Poli
- Robert E. Meyers
- Domenic Torchia
6.26 Linear Feet (in 15 boxes)
Language of Materials
The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) was formed in 1968 to represent the interests of federally employed air traffic controllers and was dissolved in 1981, after a strike against the United States government resulted in all PATCO members being fired from their Federal Aviation Administration jobs. This finding aid (number 13 of 18) describes Series XIII, Safety and Health Files, 1957-1982 (6.25 linear feet of records in 15 boxes), which contains reference and administrative material related to the health of PATCO members.
Organization of the Records
This finding aid describes Series XIII: Safety and Health Files. The Safety and Health Files make up part of the larger PATCO records which are divided into 18 series (each with its own finding aid).
Collection is stored offsite. Allow at least 2 working days for retrieval.
Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records
The PATCO records are divided into 18 series, each with its own finding aid, for ease of use and access.
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, President's files [L1986-45_01]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Executive Vice President's files [L1986-45_02]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Regional Vice President's files [L1986-45_03]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Director's files [L1986-45_04]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Strike Files [L1986-45_05]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Central Office Files [L1986-45_06]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Membership Files [L1986-45_07]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Financial records [L1986-45_08]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Conventions [L1986-45_09]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Arbitration and Grievances [L1986-45_10]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Region and Locals [L1986-45_11]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Accident files [L1986-45_12]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Public Relations and Newsclippings [L1986-45_14]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Publications [L1986-45_15]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Legislative files [L1986-45_16]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Subject files [L1986-45_17]
- Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, Legal files [L1986-45_18]
Following PATCO's bankruptcy declaration in 1982, a court-appointed trustee took custody of its records. In 1985, the bankruptcy trustee authorized the records' transfer to PATCO Local 159 for historical preservation. Terrence A. Shannon of Local 159, in consultation with the Southern Labor Archives, retrieved approximately 1000 cubic feet of records from storage in Washington, D.C.
Records donated by Terrence A. Shannon of PATCO Local 159, 1986.
Series I through IV processed by Pam Hackbart-Dean and Annie L. Tilden, 2001. Series V through XVIII processed by Harold V. Hansen III and George Rounds, 2009.
EAD finding aid created by Morna Gerrard, September 2002; revised by William Hardesty, February 2006. Further revisions and additional series added by Traci JoLeigh Drummond, 2010.
- Records of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization at Georgia State University:
- A Guide to the PATCO Records, Series XIII: Safety and Health Files
- Georgia State University Library
- February 2010
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