Why didn't Reagan just use the Taft-Hartley act on the air traffic controllers?

Ah ha, Evil OP-Munching Hamsters at work! But I have foiled you, Demon Rodents!! I had Word Pad open in another window! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!
Bush has used the Taft-Hartley Act to force open the West Coast ports, closed by a dispute between labor and management.

So, why didn’t Reagan do this in 1981 during the PATCO strike? Force all the air traffic controllers back to work, because their absence was endangering the health and safety of the Country, or however it’s phrased?

Or am I missing something here?

wouldn’t be the first time…

Without looking anything up (i.e., relying on Ringo RAM alone), I seem to recall that, unlike the longshoremen, the air traffic controllers were expressly forbidden by contract to strike, so any accomodation of such a job action was seen by the Reagan administration as condoning an abrogation of that contract. IIRC.

This feels like a win for the workers. Now they can go back to their work slow-down and management can’t lock them out for it.

That’s how I remember it as well. By law they were forbidden to strike. Plus, Reagan had military ATCs to step in and take over the air traffic control system. That made the decision to fire them even easier.

i agree with all the answers so far, but would just add that there was also the more practical consideration that you don’t want to force air traffic controllers to work against their will. a “work slow-down” on the docks is a pain in the rear, but in air traffic control it would be disastrous.

Okay, thanks, guys. :slight_smile:

I was under the impression that the Taft-Hartley act would be used against a slow-down too.

BTW, the last paragraph of that Taft-Harley link seems to be how Reagan dealt with the air traffic controllers, too.

The language of Taft-Hartley defines an employee slowdown as a strike (it’s edited in the above link, longer version here)

And while this isn’t the thread to debate it, this goes somewhat in response to Attrayant’s comment – a slowdown during the injuction period could result in the union being fined. And this probably isn’t a win for the workers. In eighty days they’ll have lost a lot of bargaining power and doubtless most of their morale. Some representatives feel they’re going to be nailed for a slowdown regardless of what they do (since there’s such a backlog of work).

panamajack: Eighty days will take them well beyond Chri$tma$, meaning they’ll lose that major bargaining chip of “Make us happy or we stop Santa.” So this ensures the season will go off without a hitch.

As I understand it, longshoremen are very highly paid, and the strike was not about money. Or so their union representative said on TV. What is it about, then? Medical benefits? More leave time?

I seriously doubt that any ATC’s would have intentionally crashed an airplane full of people. Or even endangered them.
Taft-Hartley was talked about by others, but not considered by the administration for the excuse mentioned by ringo, above. Actually, Reagan wanted to bust the union.
There’s a lot of very interesting reading on this subject, and it’s effect on american unions.

barbitu8 It was NOT a strike. It was a lockout. The shipping companies would not allow the union members to work. The shipping companies were ordered to bring the workers back.
As I understand it, the main contract issue is whether or not new employees hired to run more automated systems will be allowed to join the union. I’m sure there are also other issues.

Squink’s right. The union wanted to phase in new technology, much as they did for container shipping methods.

Invoking the Taft-Hartley act will have little effect on the ability of the unions to have a work slowdown, because regardless of the language, it will be difficult to prove that the slowdown was really going on. Or at least that is the feeling of one of the industry types I heard on talk radio yesterday. It is just hard to police. It can be kind of like blue flu, they can find legal methods to avoid coming to work, or just do the absolute minimum while at work.


How does “work-to-rule” figure into this? Would that be considered the same as a slowdown?

No, but having lived near an ATC center, and having had many friends whose fathers were ATC’s, I can say that they did engage in acts of terrorism, vandalism, harassment, sexual harassment, death threats, and finally a very brutal beating of a father of a close friend - all because he tried to cross the line before the firing deadline. He was hospitalized for a week by his own fellow co-workers, and he refused to press charges because someone sent him photos of his kids at school, taken from a telephoto camera.

Given the violence that is all-too often associated with unions (another boring anecdote about being threatened by a union deleted) I don’t think we can really say what someone on strike may or may not do, which could cause harm to others.

The air traffic controllers were federal employees. That’s the difference.