PATCO Chief to Trump: Reagan deserves place in labor’s “Hall of Shame”
President Reagan with William French Smith, the Attorney General, making a statement to the press on August 3, 1981. Reagan said of the striking air traffic controllers: "They are in violation of the law and if they do not report for work within 48 hours they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated." White House photo, Wikipedia (CC)

WASHINGTON—GOP President Donald Trump and his Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, may think naming Ronald Reagan to the agency’s Labor Hall of Honor is a good idea.

Ron Taylor doesn’t. He says the move will turn the exhibit in DOL’s lobby into a “Hall of Shame.” His colleagues call it “absurd.” And he should know.

Taylor, you see, is the president of PATCO – the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, the union Reagan decimated with a mass firing when the controllers were forced to strike over safety issues, in 1981.

And Taylor, then just starting his career, is one of those fired controllers, himself.

DOL is honoring Reagan for his role in negotiating first-ever contracts with residual payments for television and film appearances and a pension plan for members of the Screen Actors Guild, which he headed in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

It also hails his support of Solidarnosc (Solidarity), the independent Polish trade union. DOL said that shows Reagan’s commitment to “free” unions.

Left unsaid: Reagan’s firing of the 14,000 PATCO controllers in August, 1981, and his other notable role as SAG president: Testifying before Congress against the “Hollywood 10,” alleged Communists hounded from their jobs in the “Red Scare” crusades in the 40s and 50s.

And labor historians generally agree Reagan’s firing of the PATCO controllers gave a “green light” to corporate America to break the prior social contract which recognized the nation’s unions as legitimate societal actors – and instead wage the all-out war to destroy them. That war continues.

“Ronald Reagan is a liar,” Taylor said in a telephone interview. In a letter to PATCO, whose leaders endorsed him before the 1980 election, “He promised to address the safety issues” the PATCO members raised, Taylor explained. Reagan fired them instead.

For almost all, their lives were ruined, Taylor says. “It wasn’t just a 2-day gig. We were banned for life,” he added. Even Democratic President Bill Clinton’s amnesty more than a decade later didn’t help many.

But while Acosta’s announcement angers Taylor, it doesn’t surprise him.

“Anything coming out of the White House with Donald Trump in it is just as bad as Reagan was,” says Taylor, whose current PATCO is a sector of the Office and Professional Employees International Union.

He also said his former controller colleagues rang up to tell him “this is absurd.”

“I can’t stop it,” Taylor admits about the pro-Reagan DOL ceremony. “But there should be a true message coming out of the DOL. This is a deliberate slap” against unions “by the current administration.”

The key reason, Taylor says, is “Reagan opened the way for private, and now public, sector workers to be attacked” by companies and now federal and state governments.

Acosta announced Reagan’s coming induction on August 24 at a ceremony at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. He gave no date for the event.

“President Reagan is the only president of the United States to have led a major union. President Reagan’s membership in the Labor Hall of Honor recognizes his accomplishments as a labor leader,” including leading SAG in its first three strikes ever, Acosta said.

The Labor Department did not return phone calls seeking details about the ceremony or comments about Reagan’s firing of the PATCO controllers and his role in the Red Scare. SAG-AFTRA, the successor union to the one Reagan ran, declined to comment, spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt said. Ironically, SAG-AFTRA re-elected President Gabrielle Carteris the same day as Acosta’s announcement.

DOL said the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City, whose website bills it as an independent union, nominated Reagan for the Hall of Honor. The group’s spokesman said he would contact its president for comment, but the president did not do so.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.