Controllers fired in '81 may get to come back Clinton plan would rehire some strikers

May 11, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration has decided to invite air traffic controllers dismissed in their 1981 strike to reapply for their former jobs, according to administration and congressional officials.

The controllers, barred from re-employment by President Ronald Reagan, would be allowed to seek reinstatement after the administration decides how many are needed, what criteria to use in their rehiring and what retraining they would require.

The plan to send the ousted controllers back to their jobs is being developed jointly by the departments of Labor and Transportation and the Office of Personnel Management. They hope to send their recommendations to President Clinton this week, the officials said yesterday. It is not known when he will act on them.

How many of the controllers would return and how quickly was also unclear. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, estimates that 3,000 of the 11,400 controllers who were dismissed are interested in returning to work. But the Federal Aviation Administration contends there is no shortage of air traffic controllers and plans to hire only 200 more this year.

The administration's action comes amid mounting pressure from Democrats in Congress who consider the ban on re-employment unjustly punitive.

They believe that just as the ban became a defining moment for Mr. Reagan, showing that he could not be taken lightly when federal workers defied the government, rehiring the controllers would have symbolic weight for Mr. Clinton as well, signaling a more compassionate, pro-labor stance.

The rehiring of the former controllers would be a victory for organized labor, for which the dismissals were the first sign of the hard times in the Reagan years.

Government employees are forbidden by law to strike against the public safety, and each controller who was banned had signed a no-strike pledge.

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, sent Mr. Clinton a letter yesterday signed by 24 senators asking that he give the air controllers a chance to get their old jobs back.

Two House committee chairmen have introduced legislation that would enable the dismissed controllers to reapply for their jobs.

The FAA has reported that as of February there were 17,893 air traffic controllers, of whom 12,038 were at full-performance level, which means they can handle any job where they are assigned. In August 1981, when the strike began, there were 16,200 controllers, of whom 13,205 were at full-performance level.

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