Historic PATCO Records Now Open for Research


The historic records of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) are available for research at Georgia State University Library’s Southern Labor Archives, one year before the 30th anniversary of the strike that broke the union. President Ronald Reagan’s confrontation with PATCO in 1981 marked a turning point in U.S. labor relations. The records at the Southern Labor Archives are the largest PATCO collection available to researchers and they provide insight into one of the most tumultuous and significant events in recent labor-management history.

The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, formed in 1968 to represent the interests of federally employed air traffic controllers, survived as a union for only 14 years. Dissatisfied with their Federal Aviation Administration contract, PATCO members went on strike on August 3, 1981, though as federal employees it was illegal for them to do so. Subsequently, over 11,000 controllers were dismissed and the union was decertified.

The PATCO strike and firings led to a loss of bargaining power for U. S. labor unions. In their aftermath, corporations began to view termination of striking workers as a viable option to negotiation. Fearful of management response, unions have seldom called strikes since the early 1980s. The impact of the PATCO firings on workers, unions, corporations, management, and the federal government is a rich area of study for scholars from many fields including history, sociology, economics, communications, labor, law, business, and political science.

According to Georgetown University historian Joseph McCartin, the PATCO records are uniquely revealing.  “I have never seen a richer collection of union records in the field of U. S. labor history,” he stated. “Often the union records donated to archival repositories have been culled and scrubbed by individuals who do not understand the potential importance of records they judge to be insignificant…[the PATCO records give] researchers an opportunity to get a unique view of the internal workings of a union, including divisions among its leaders and intense debates over strategy.”

The PATCO records, created and used by officers and staff at their national headquarters, detail the daily operations of the union and the administration of its regional and local offices. Highlights of the collection include records related to the 1981 strike; files from the offices of the President, Vice-Presidents, and Director; and publications. The collection consists of over 200 feet of material housed in over 450 boxes.

Questions about the collection should be directed to Traci Drummond, archivist, Southern Labor Archives, at 404.413.2880 or archives@gsu.edu.

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5 Responses to Historic PATCO Records Now Open for Research

  1. I was a Patco Controller at the New York Center that lost job on Aug 3, 1981. I am doing research on the strike for a reputable company interested in possibly doing a television documentary at or around the strike anniversary.

  2. Traci JoLeigh Drummond says:

    Hi Kenneth:

    What an exciting project: the PATCO strike would certainly make for an interesting documentary. I hope your research brings you to Georgia State University Library, and should you have any questions about the collection, don’t hesitate to contact me for more information.


  3. Allan Moskowitz says:

    Hi Tracy:
    I worked at PATCO from 1974-1978 as sort of the in-house attorney( Leyden gave me lots of titles) and wrote all the congressional testimony, many speeches, articles, etc. and created and directed the accident investigation program. I still have copies of some of the PATCO newsletters. I’m stunned to find out that the archives even exist would love to see what you’ve got.
    Allan Moskowitz

  4. Kenneth,

    PATCO really does still exist today. We provide services to PATCO strikers, and we provide union representation to many Air Traffic Control Towers in the Federal Contract Towers Program. I hope you can find time to add some of our history to your documentary. Ron Taylor is our President – patcoron@bellsouth.net – PATCO national office (Florida) (772) 283-3369 – http://www.patco81.com

    Frank Sepulveda
    PATCO Western Region VP

  5. Traci JoLeigh Drummond says:

    Hi Frank:

    Thanks for your comment. I happen to know that PATCO is having a meeting in Hollywood, Florida, later in the summer, because I will be in attendance. Ron Taylor has asked me (and my colleague Claire Galloway, who is the archivist for the Texas Labor Archives, University of Texas at Arlington) to present to the membership about our PATCO collections and the PATCO digitization project currently underway at Georgia State University Library. Hope to see you there!