High Stakes

You think you have an unbeatable hand. You believe you can't lose but your opponent nods inscrutably and ups the ante. Your buddies are prodding you - egging you on. Convinced your opponent is bluffing, you put all your chips on the table, smile confidently and call the bluff.July of 1981 wasn't unusually hot, nor was it exceptionally humid. Nonetheless, it was pretty damned uncomfortable. The climate at Big Time was one of gnawing discontent. A cold front of intimidation, hostility and hubris was stalled over the work force and everyone knew a big storm was brewing. Some would welcome it, some would run for cover while others knew they'd simply have to ride it out. I was ready for the ride.

Required to resign from PATCO when selected for a staff position, I was now working in Big Time's Training Department. After years on the boards, this was the added challenge I needed. There were always lesson plans to write, classes to conduct, briefings to give, staff meetings to attend and proficiency time to be had in the tower and TRACON.

For the past several months, the Facility Manager seemed preoccupied with the subject of staff proficiency. He appeared tired and troubled at the daily staff meetings. Each of us were asked how much time we'd spent in the control rooms and what positions we'd worked. I didn't realize at the time but staff and supervisor currency was a key component in a comprehensive plan to blunt PATCO's strike plans.

Since back in January of 1980 we figured a strike was plausible. From the acceptance of plausibility we witnessed an aporetic sequence that - whenever something is plausible it eventually becomes possible. Once something is seen as possible - it becomes inevitable.

One Wednesday in July I was finishing up a regularly scheduled briefing for one of the controller teams. When I finished, most everyone got up and ran for the door like there was a fire alarm. Nothing new about that - but one guy, a young trainee, stayed behind to talk to me.

Dave was a nice fellow. Hard working and levelheaded, he was certified on all but one tower position and would soon begin radar training. Normally cheerful and optimistic, he was worried. I was pretty sure I knew why. As his story unfolded I could see the look of bewilderment in his eye and hear the anxiety in his voice. There had to be a way out of this conundrum and he was hoping I could help.

Dave was, of course, a PATCO member. As a new trainee it was nearly impossible to decline PATCO membership. Joining the union was a necessary step toward acceptance into the work force. It didn't necessarily mean you believed everything the union told you but, on the other hand, why would they lie? PATCO was telling Dave things he didn't completely believe and he was searching for contradictory evidence.

"The supervisors are telling us we'll be fired if we strike but my PATCO Team Rep. says they can't possibly fire all of us." "Hmm." I thought to myself..."the myth of indispensability." It was the Fool’s Gold that PATCO had seeded the minds of its members with. I’d tell Dave if he went out on strike he would be fired; although I myself didn’t know how the FAA could possibly keep things going with even a 50% reduction in the workforce.

The union had also told Dave that they'd eventually win the strike and would return in triumph to deal with those who stayed on the job. "Scabs" would be ostracised. Trainees would never become fully certified and would end up being drummed out as training failures. These were major concerns for Dave and, although I did my best to debunk them, I could see he was not convinced. Still, by the end of our conversation his spirits had improved somewhat. He smiled, said we'd talk again then left the briefing room. That was the last time I ever saw him.

What neither of us knew on that July day was that the FAA had quietly prepared a thorough and fairly effective strike contingency plan. PATCO had their own hand to play but the odds in this high stakes game were very much in favor of the house. Then, on August 3rd, Dave and many others at Big Time pushed all their chips to the center of the table and called the bluff. More to come on '81.

© NLA Factor, 2010


Anonymous said...

Enjoying the blog/stories very much! Great work.

Last one way too close to home. Substitute me for Dave & center for tower and I'm all in with my pair of deuces. When I asked the advice of my team Supe, he said that in my position (D-side qualified) he didn't see any way I could NOT go out. "Say Again?"

Now, I did have 2 different Tracon tickets from the military, so in hindsight I probably should have just resigned & gone DOD but...Oh well, my wife of 31 years says I never would have survived all those "Debriefs" anyway.

No Longer a Factor said...

Yikes! Some helpful Supe you had there! It rings a bell though. Most of the Supes and second line types where I was working actually badgered the PATCO guys before August; telling them to PLEASE go out! There was way too much agida in the air at the time. Everyone was goin' nuts from the tension.

I'll have more things to say about those days so stay tuned. I try not to be judgmental because both sides were fairly out of control long before the strike. Too bad some cooler heads didn't prevail. I lost a lot of very close friends and teammates.

I appreciate your feedback brother. Things were a little slow here at the "Old Controller's Home" so I decided to start a new hobby with this Blog.

Praxis said...

I never heard of the word "aporetic" till now. Excellent blog.

No Longer a Factor said...

Thanks Praxis. I enjoy your blog as well!