An article in Thursday's Washington Post incorrectly stated that the federal government is not required by law to bargain with its employes. Since 1978, the government has been required to bargain over personnel policies and general working conditions, but not pay levels, hours or pensions, because these matters are set by law.
The federal government is not required by law to bargain with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). Most federal agencies, in fact, do not have to negotiate with their employes over wages, benefits and working conditions.
A 1962 executive order gave federal workers minimal collective-bargaining rights, enabling general workers, including PATCO members, to set up grievance procedures and make pay recommendations in "consultation" with executive agencies. Those agencies or the adminsitration can send those recommendation to Congress, which sets salaries and hours for the workers.
However, postal workers received most collective-bargaining rights, except the right to strike, under a 1970 act establishing the Postal Service as an independent federal agency. Congress gave prospective approval to any new postal wage increases by giving the workers bargaining rights.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, another independent agency, sets rates and charges for the power it produces, and thus sets salaries for its employes without congressional approval. Employes of the Bureau of Mines also can engage in collective bargaining, largely because of the history of the U.S. coal industry. Workers had been negotiating for years, and were "grandfathered in" the agency with bargaining rights.
Like other civil servants, air traffic controllers take an oath that includes the words: "I am not participating in any strike against the government of the United States or any agency thereof, and I will not so participate while an employe of the government of the United States or any agency thereof."
In the event that employes commit an act carrying imprisonment as a penalty, as the government contends PATCO strikers have, the government may fire them on seven days' notice, during which they may respond in writing or orally, through counsel or through a union representative.
Afterward, dismissed employes have 20 days to appeal to the Merit System Protection Board, which decides if the firing will stand.
For all other dismissals, PATCO workers, like other government employes, must be given 30 days' notice.
Fired federal employes lose federal health and life insurance protection for themselves and their families, accumulated sick leave and other benefits, the Department of Transportation said yesterday.
The department said yesterday that it was not clear whether controllers fired in this instance would be eligible for unemployment benefits.