Striking air traffic controllers could face a bittersweet future. Already turned down Sept. 16 in a bid for resumed contract negotiations, they face a possible loss of their union bargaining rights with the government within a week.
The striking Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), has said this could "doom the nation's air traffic system to years of inefficiency, doom 12,000 highly qualified employees to loss of their jobs, and doom the public the inconvenience and perhaps danger."
But many controllers privately hope that the expected decertification of PATCO may lead to reemployment for thousands of them within the next several months.
As late as last weekend, Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan and other administration officials were insisting there will be no amnesty for striking controllers.But there are persistent reports that if PATCO is decertified, the government will screen out an estimated 2,000 or more "hardcore union people" among the controllers and hire back other qualified applicants on a nonunion basis.
Some controllers say they will refuse rehiring but hundreds are reported ready and anxious to end their walkout. Up to now, offers to return to control towers have been turned down by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Patco's Sept. 16 proposal to resume bargaining was made at a hearing before the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which handles government labor-management matters outside the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. The FLRA is considering a recommendation by an administrative law judge that PATCO be stripped of bargaining rights because of its "open and flagrant" violation of a law which prohibits federal employee strikes. A decision is due within a week.
The federal labor agency turned down PATCO's proposal that it order new bargaining, saying that this went beyond its authority. The government opposed such an order. An attorney for the FAA said that an order directing bargaining would be an affirmation of the right of government employees to strike -- a right denied by law.
The US government faces International Labor Organization (ILO) charges of "infringement of basic trade union rights" as a result of its handling of the controllers strike. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, based in Brussels, has asked the ILO in Geneva to hold hearings on whether the US has violated international covenants guaranteeing workers the right to strike and bargain collectively. The AFL-CIO, a member of the ILO, has endorsed the complaint.
Meanwhile, pressures for a settlement of the controllers dispute were eased still more by reports from the airline industry that the effects of the strike have been much less severe than expected. Although there are and will continue to be fewer flights until towers can be manned normally, there have been no serious disruptions, according to the industry.
With military flight controllers helping out in FAA towers, the Defense Department is increasingly wary of possible shortages of controllers for its airfields.