Air-traffic controllers work with pilots and ground crews to coordinate the movement of passenger, cargo, and military aircraft for safety and efficiency.

Photograph by Steve Raymer
  • On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 air-traffic controllers. More than 12,000 members of the air-traffic controllers union had gone on strike two days earlier, in a last-ditch effort to negotiate for better pay and benefits. Reagan immediately deemed the strike illegal, fired the workers, and imposed a lifetime ban on rehiring any of them.

    This was a powerful defeat for organized labor. Employers began to openly discourage collective bargaining and the formation of unions, not just the goals and concessions sought by those unions. The FAA had hired replacement workers for the striking air-traffic controllers, a move that encouraged other businesses to hire replacement workers and reduced the power of the strike as an effective bargaining tactic for labor. In 1981, more than 20% of employed workers belonged to unions. Today, that number has dropped to 11%.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    air traffic controller Noun

    person who monitors the position, speed, and direction of different aircraft to ensure safe and efficient air travel.

    ban Verb

    to prohibit, or not allow.

    defeat Verb

    to overcome an enemy or obstacle.

    discourage Verb

    to disapprove or encourage someone not to do something.

    effective Adjective

    useful or able to perform a task.

    immediately Adverb

    at once or quickly.

    negotiate Verb

    to discuss with others of different viewpoints in order to reach an agreement, contract, or treaty.

    strike Noun

    situation of people refusing to work in order to call attention to their working conditions.

    tactic Noun

    procedure or method for accomplishing a goal.

    union Noun

    group of people or countries that work together for a common goal or set of goals.