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President Reagan fires striking air traffic controllers

President Reagan fires striking air traffic controllers

Aug. 5, 1981: More than 300 local striking air traffic controllers and their families demonstrate their unity at United Auto Workers hall in Los Angeles. They rejected President Reagan’s order to return to work.

On Aug. 3, 1981, the 13,000-member Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization went on strike. President Ronald Reagan ordered the strikers back to work.

In the Aug. 6, 1981, Los Angeles Times, staff writers David Treadwell and Penny Pagano reported:

WASHINGTON – The Reagan Administration, making good on its ultimatum to striking air traffic controllers, began Wednesday to send dismissal notices to the thousands of controllers who defied the President’s ultimatum to get back to work or lose their jobs.

Striking controllers — hundreds of them rallying at union halls and city parks across the nation and chanting “Strike! Strike! Strike! — stood firm in their intention to remain off the job unless the government meets their demands. The Administration had set an 11 a.m. EDT deadline for striking controllers to go back to work.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for them,” President Reagan said after the first of the dismissal notices went out. “I certainly get no joy out of this. And I was hoping that more of them would recognize the obligation that they have. There is just no other choice.”…

About 10% of the striking air controllers returned to work; the rest were fired.

This photo by retired staff photographer Rick Meyer was published on page one of the Aug. 6, 1981 Los Angeles Times.


  1. August 5, 2013, 7:41 pm

    That may have been the last time a politician kept a promise. I was still in school at the time, but I knew Reagan really would fire them, and never hire them back, if they didn't go back on the job. Even I could tell he meant business.

    By: Mac Daddy
  2. October 18, 2013, 12:41 pm

    Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this

    post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept

    chatting about this. I will forward this article to him.

    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

    By: twitter
  3. May 16, 2016, 8:49 am

    My husband was one of the controllers fired. Another controller became friends with your cartoonist Conrad Znd he gave him prints of the 3 caricatures he did about the strike. We have one of them which was a gift to my husband for his birthday 3 years ago. We just lost our friend to agent orange/leukemia from his tour in Vietnam. We have the one of Regan praying while looking at the radar screen. Would it be possible to get copies of the other two prints.

    By: Shirley Thomas

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