On this day (August 5) in 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 air traffic controllers who had gone on strike and banned them from federal employment for life — a ban that was eventually rescinded during President Bill Clinton’s first year in office. Gary Leff has posted this history of the ill-fated air traffic controllers strike of 1981.
Here is an excerpt from Leff’s excellent post (View from the Wing): “August 3-5, 1981 were a remarkable set of days in U.S. aviation. Negotiations between the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the air traffic controllers union broke down in 1981. The union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, wanted to reduce work hours to 32 and wanted a $10,000 raise for each controller. The FAA offered 11.4% a year raises for 3 years, which was more than double what was offered to other federal employees. No reduced work week was offered.”
According to Leff, “The government managed to get air system capacity up to 50%, enough not to have to capitulate politically to the strikers. Without flights, the administration would have been under tremendous pressure to agree to terms. Some military controllers were used, along with air traffic control supervisors, and other employees to restore air service capacity. It took 10 years for staffing levels to be fully restored.”