Thirty years ago—on Aug. 3, 1981—workers in the union know as the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), walked off the job. Their demands included seeking a shorter workweek, additional pay increases, improved working conditions and better safety for air travelers. This was all done in the name of collective bargaining. The union defied an ultimatum by the newly elected President Ronald Reagan to return to work.
The union members rallied, demonstrated and had the backing of the liberal democrats. Forty-eight hours later, Reagan fired 11,359 striking air traffic controllers.
Union leaders and members were arrested, jailed and fined. PATCO’s $3.5 million strike fund was frozen, the strike was broken and eventually the government decertified the union.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R), faces a similar situation with public employees, taking to the streets, challenging his proposals for lower wages, increased contributions of retirement funds and the elimination of collective bargaining. The state of Wisconsin, like 30 other states, and the federal government too, faces financial ruin in the face of a depressed economy and budget shortfalls.
Protesters are pledging to remain in the Wisconsin Capitol while Senate Democrats are committed to staying out of state until a compromise can be found with Gov. Walker on collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.
The Republican governor said that while the state enjoys a lower-than-average unemployment rate -- about 7.5 percent compared to 9 percent nationally -- about 5,000-6,000 state workers and 5,000-6,000 local government workers will find their jobs on the chopping block as the state looks to close a $3.6 billion biennial budget gap.
Under the governor's proposal, unions still could represent workers, but they could not force employees to pay dues and would have to hold annual votes to stay organized. Only wages below the Consumer Price Index would be subject to collective bargaining, anything higher would have to be approved by referendum.
If the situation cannot be resolved, more than 14,000 state employees could be fired.