Government labor watchers see a good chance that Uncle Sam will be hit by strikes next year that could cause worldwide aerial traffic jams and slow or stop U.S. mail deliveries.
The potential trouble spots are the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Postal Service. Both have recent histories of rough labor relations and strikes. Unlike workers in some other federal agencies, FAA's controllers can make the public sit up and take notice when they work-to-rule or suffer widesprad attacks of the flu.
Postal workers have hit the bricks before. Even the unorganized wildcat in the early 1970s idled 220,000 workers for a few days. President Nixon granted the postal workers a 14 percent pay raise and, to help strike leaders save face, brought in Army troops to pretend to handle the mails. Although the Postal Service does have contingency plans to use reservists, National Guard and active duty military personnel during a strike the consensus is that the only thing that could be worse than the current U.S. mail system would be one run by the Pentagon.
FAA brass say the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) is readying a strike this March -- just before the big Easter vacation travel season -- unless it gets special pay and benefits for controllers.
This column has a copy of a 110-page memo to key PATCO leaders from president Robert E. Poli. FAA officials insist it is a blueprint for how to run and win a strike. It talks about picket assignments, media liaison, security, and financial and psychological preparation for long periods when there is no paycheck coming in.
PATCO spokesmen say they have no intention of striking the government. They say the "organizational guidelines" were developed in part to assist local leaders in the event that Congress passes legislation permitting strikes. As things stand, PATCO says, the guidelines are for internal communications and have been used to assit controllers and their families during emergencies such as the recent hurricane in Texas.
U.S. Postal Service brass begin contract talks with unions representing 600,000 workers early next year.The current three-year agreement between the USPS and AFL-CIO unions expires in July. Conventions of the National Association of Letter Carriers and American Postal Workers Unions' this summer adopted a no-contract no-work mandate for their leadership.
Postal workers currently enjoy annual pay raises, plus cost-of-living adjustments every six months, plus layoff protection. Postal Service brass have indicated they want to whittle down the size of their labor bill (which currently takes 80 cents of every dollar the USPS gets), and they want more authority to lay off workers as automated equipment and electronic message transmission is introduced.
Just last week the APWU voted to replace its president, Emmet Andrews, with Morris Biller who is considered much more militant. Biller's slate swept the APWU elections, and the new team will be installed next month and it will do the bargaining for APWU which is the nation's largest union.
Closer to home federal and District government officials are worried about wildcat walkouts threatened by workers if they do not get the same 9.1 percent pay raise President Carter ordered for U.S. white-collar employes. D.C. Mayor Marion Barry says the city is too broke to give more than 5 percent.Union officials have warned that if Barry fails to negotiate with them before the U.S. pay raise clicks into effect (tomorrow for most workers) their people may take a walk.
Strikes against the government are illegal. Penalty for "withholding labor" is dismissal, a year and a day in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Despite the penalties, only a handful of people have ever been fired -- and none jailed -- for striking. In the case of the big postal walkout 10 years ago postal officials side-stepped the issue by refusing to refer to the 6-day work stoppage as a strike. Recently the D.C. Government got around what to do about prison guards who refused to come to work by saying they were in a leave-without-pay status.