The president of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) said yesterday that "absolute nonacceptance" is the prevailing mood among union members concerning the tentative contract agreement reached with federal officials last month.
President Robert Poli's remarks, the latest condemnation of the contract by union leaders, came as PATCO prepared to send out ratification ballots to its 15,000 members today. Results of the vote are expected on July 28, Poli said.
Union locals have sent Poli 157 letters and telegrams assailing the contract, he said, adding, "I have not received one yet that's in favor of ratification." Reports from across the country have already detailed widespread opposition among union members.
Rejection of the contract would raise anew the possibility of a paralyzing strike by air traffic controllers. Last month the nation's airlines prepared emergency plans to cut back service by three quarters as a June 22 deadline imposed by the controllers drew near.
But early on the morning of that day, a strike vote among controllers showed that only 75 percent were willing to stop work, according to PATCO. Union policy required approval of at least 80 percent for Poli to call a strike and he quickly agreed to the package now being considered by the members.
Last Thursday, however, Poli and other members of the union's executive board voted unanimously to urge rejection of the contract. That move was applauded by some 500 controllers who had gathered at the Chicago meeting place.
Poli said yesterday that if the accord is rejected, he will seek further talks with the Federal Aviation Administration, the controllers' employer. But the union will continue to require an 80 percent approval vote by members before ordering a strike, he said.
PATCO concerns center on the work week, pay and retirement regulations, according to Poli. Controllers want a 32-hour week, while the draft agreement provides for a 40-hour week. The union sought an average $10,000 raise for members. The draft, according to government statements, grants an average $4,000 raise, though PATCO says it would in fact be less than that.
Poli said yesterday that on June 22 federal negotiators had learned almost as soon as he did that the strike vote had failed. This forced him to give in on many issues, he said. Federal officials told him that "union informants" had disclosed the vote's results, Poli said.
Linda Gosden of the Transportation Department said yesterday that information the government received from officials at the controllers' installations had suggested that they would, in fact, vote to strike. Nonetheless, the government stuck by the $40 million offer that it had made a week earlier, she said.
Last week, responding to the executive board's vote, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis told the controllers "not to be persuaded that they can expect more by rejecting the June 22 agreement." Lewis said the raise controllers would receive under the contract was already twice that the average government employe will receive.
As federal employes, controllers are forbidden by law to strike. The government has threatened civil and criminal court action against them if they do stop work.