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    United States versus Professional Air Traffic Controllers

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    United States v. Professional Air Traffic Controllers
    Organization 653 F.2d 1134 (7th Cir. 1981)

    State and federal employees have not always honored the prohibition on striking. While many ignored the prohibition, probably the most famous example occurred when the federal air traffic controllers, represented by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), went on strike in 1981. One of the reasons the strike was so memorable was undoubtedly because newly elected President Ronald Reagan took a hard line and terminated 11,000 striking employees.

    PATCO Local No. 316 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport demanded an upgrade of the airport and a tax-freebonus of $7,500 for each air traffic controller. The Federal Aviation Administration refused to meet thedemand. In response, from August 6 to 15, 1980, PATCO conducted a unified slowdown of airporttraffic which resulted in several delays. The United States sought an injunction on August 18, 1980,and the action was dismissed. The United States appealed from the district court's decision holdingthat only the Federal Labor Relations Authority, not the district court, had the authority to enjoin such a strike.

    Swygert, J.
    Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 was enacted to provide a comprehensive statutory scheme forthe regulation of federal labor-management relations.The statute created a new, independent agency, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which was tobe primarily responsible for carrying out the purposes of Title VII. When Congress enacted Title VII, it adopted the language of section 19(b)(4) of the Executive Order[Executive Order 11491, as amended, which regulated federal labor-management relations prior to enactment of the Civil Service Reform Act] making it an unfair labor practice for a union "to call, or participate in, a strike, work stoppage, or slowdown." The reason for Congress's prohibition of strikes by federal employees was reiterated during the congressional debates on Title VII:

    The primary reason for Government services is to supply the public with certain essentials of life which cannot reasonably be supplied by the average citizen himself, or to him by private enterprise. Because these services are essential to the health, welfare and safety of the public, it becomes intolerable that they be interrupted. Dismissing or indicting the air traffic controllers involved in the slowdown would not be a viable remedy for the Government. First, terminating a substantial number of controllers would seriously impair the FAA's ability to provide the public with this essential service;
    this is precisely the sort of result that the statutory provisions were intended to prevent. Second, indicting or terminating the controllers after a strike does nothing to prevent the strike and the serious consequences that would surely follow. Thus, the only remedy available to the Government that can prevent a strike is an injunction we conclude that an injunction is an available remedy. REVERSED and REMANDED.

    There are also differences between the private and public sector about what may be negotiated. While the U.S. postal workers may do so, generally federal employees cannot bargain over wages, hours, or benefits. On the other hand, they can bargain about the numbers, types, and grades of positions, procedures for performing work or exercising authority, the use of technology, and alternatives for employees harmed by management decisions.

    Case Questions

    1. In your opinion, based on the PATCO decision, should public employees have the right to strike?

    2. Do you agree with Congress's assessment of why that right is not provided to public employees?

    3. Given the court's language about the perils of terminating the air traffic controllers, why do you think President Reagan did so? What would you have done differently, if anything?

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    Case Question

    1. In your opinion, based on the PATCO decision, should public employees have the right to strike?

    Based on the PATCO decision, public employees should not have the right to strike, as the union participation is unlawful.

    2. Do you agree with Congress's assessment of why that right is not provided to public employees?

    I agree with the reasoning that public servants provide a needed ...

    Solution Summary

    The United States versus Professional Air Traffic Controllers are examined.