This is the story of power and the abuse of power that led to the demise of a major federal union and the firing of over 11,000 federal employees. The Professional Air Traffic Controller's Organization (PATCO) misjudged the political sentiment of the nation, the willingness of the Reagan Administration to implement its social and economic agenda, and the ability of the union to achieve its goals through work stoppages.
The events of 1981, chronicled in this story, severely undermined the union movement and set the stage for labor-management relations in the public sector for the subsequent two decades. Equally important, issues that lead to the PATCO strike were not addressed by the FAA or the Department of Transportation, and many of the same problems still plague the federal system today. While the PATCO debacle and its aftermath are now reasonably clear, what is unclear is whether the union and government leaders learned from the event.
WILLIS J. NORDLUND is Dean of the School of Business at the College of West Virginia.