The Air Traffic Controllers Even the Score

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

A Delta Airlines jet takes off from LaGuardia Airport in New York. 

On January 14, the Prospect ran a piece by Georgetown’s Joe McCartin, one of the nation’s leading labor historians, recommending that federal workers start staging sickouts as, perhaps, the one way to compel our deranged president to end the government shutdown.

McCartin was uniquely qualified to offer such advice: As the author of Collision Course, he had written the definitive history of the air traffic controller strike of 1981, which ended calamitously when President Ronald Reagan abruptly fired the strikers, busted their union (PATCO), and hired permanent replacements, thereby encouraging many American corporations to lock out their workers and fire them as a way to bust their own unions. Since strikes by federal workers are forbidden by law, Joe suggested that sickouts from strategically situated federal workers who were compelled to work without pay would be a way to force President Trump to end the shutdown.

And lo and behold, it was air traffic controllers at LaGuardia who did just that—essentially taking their airport out of commission this morning by refusing to show up for work, thereby wreaking havoc all across U.S. air travel. (Yesterday’s comments by their boss, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, encouraging them to take out loans, surely pushed some of those controllers over the edge.) Within hours of the LaGuardia shutdown, and battered by public opinion, Trump caved. 

Thirty-eight years after the failed PATCO strike, the air traffic controllers have finally evened the score. Good for them!

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