President Reagan’s first few months in office was anything but uneventful. Immediately after taking office, hostages were freed from Iran. Then there was the assassination attempt. This was followed by 2 major labor strikes in the summer of ’81 – one of which, President Reagan got heavily involved in.
Major League Baseball Strike
First was the Major League Baseball strike, which began on June 12. This was the first baseball strike I remember. There had been a strike in 1972, but I was way too young to know about that one. The strike in the 1981 season was pretty significant, as it lasted almost 2 months. That’s a big chunk out of the season.
However, this strike did not affect my baseball viewing to badly. The Triple-A level did not go on strike. Being from Rhode Island, I got to see the Pawtucket Red Sox more often. I enjoyed watching them more than the Boston Red Sox, so it was pretty cool that I finally got to watch the Pawtucket Red Sox on television.
On July 31, 1981, a compromise was finally reached. Major League Baseball resumed on August 9 with the All-Star Game in Cleveland’s Municipal stadium. Regular season games started the next day.
Since there was such a big gap in the season, a unique situation occurred. The owners decided to split the 1981 season into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series. The four survivors would then move on to the two best-of-five League Championship Series. It was the first time that Major League Baseball used a split-season format since 1892.
This format ended up screwing the Cincinnati Reds (National League West) and St. Louis Cardinals (National League East) as each failed to make the playoffs. This was despite the fact that they had the two best full-season records in the National League that season (and would have won their divisions under normal circumstances). St. Louis made up for it the next season by going on to win the 1982 World Series.
Not only did the Cardinals and Reds not make the playoffs, with their good records, but the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs even though they had a losing record overall. Here are the post-season results:
In the first round, the New York Yankees beat the Milwaukee Brewers (3 games to 2), the Oakland Athletics swept the Kansas City Royals (3 games to 0), the Montreal Expos beat the Philadelphia Phillies (3 games to 2), and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros (3 games to 2).
In the League Championships, the Yankees swept the A’s (3 games to 0), and The Dodgers beat the Expos (3 games to 2).
And then the Dodgers won the World Series by beating the Yankees 4 games to 2.
Air Traffic Controllers’ Strike
As the Major League Baseball strike was coming to a conclusion, another one was starting up.
On August 3, 1981, federal air traffic controllers went on strike. They were seeking better working conditions, better pay and a 32-hour workweek. However, by the union declaring a strike, they were violating a law that banned strikes by government unions. Ronald Reagan declared the PATCO strike a “peril to national safety” and ordered them back to work under the terms of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Only 1,300 of the nearly 13,000 controllers returned to work. Reagan held a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, where he stated that if the air traffic controllers “do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.”
Even though members of President Reagan’s cabinet were worried about political backlash, Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored his order to return to work, busting the PATCO union. He banned them from federal service for life. According to Charles Craver, a labor law professor at George Washington University Law School, the move gave Americans a new view of Reagan, who “sent a message to the private employer community that it would be all right to go up against the unions”.
The FAA then had to hire and train enough air traffic controllers to replace those that had been fired. This was challenging because it normally took 3 years to train a new controller. The fired controllers were initially replaced with nonparticipating controllers, supervisors, staff personnel, some nonrated personnel, and in some cases by controllers transferred temporarily from other facilities. Some military controllers were also used until replacements could be trained. The FAA had initially claimed that staffing levels would be restored within two years; however, it would take closer to ten years before the overall staffing levels returned to normal. PATCO was decertified on October 22, 1981. Some former striking controllers were allowed to reapply after 1986 and were rehired; they and their replacements are now represented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which was organized in 1987 and had no connection with PATCO.
The lifetime ban that President Reagan placed on the striking air traffic controllers was rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
Here are Ronald Reagan’s Remarks and Question and Answer Session held on August 3, 1981.