WASHINGTON -- Air traffic controllers walked off the job just after dawn Monday in defiance of a back-to-work order. President Reagan ordered the government to impound their strike fund and to try to decertify their union.
The Federal Aviation Administration said they planned to ask the major commercial airlines to reduce their flights by 50 percent. 'We hope to ease that later,' a spokesman said.
U.S. District Judge Joyce Green ordered officials of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization to appear in court at 5 p.m. edt Monday to show cause why union members should not be held in contempt of court for violating its back-to-work order.
The Justice Department had obtained the temporary restraining order before the strike began, at about 7 a.m. local time, since it is illegal for federal employees to strike.
The strike forced one airline -- Pittsburgh-based USAir -- to cancel all of its flights until at least noon. Other airlines tried to continue their normal flight schedules, as supervisory personnel took over for the striking controllers.
Of the 17,000 controllers nationwide, 15,000 are members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.
The strike could ground more than half the nation's 800,000 daily air passengers, cost the airline industry $80 million a day and idle up to 65 percent of all air traffic.
The FAA said it had 2,400 supervisors and 150 military controllers available to replace the striking controllers, but they could handle only 40 to 50 percent of all air carrier flights. Most of the flights under 500 miles would be grounded.
Despite a temporary restraining order prohibiting the strike and threats of imprisonment and fines, it appeared early today most union controllers had obeyed their union and walked off the job.
Jim Stakum, a PATCO official, said the union was prepared to stay out for at least one month, as picket lines were formed outside several FAA facilities.
PATCO, seeking a 32-hour work week, better retirement benefits and a $10,000 raise that would put top controller pay at about $59,000 annually, rejected the government's last contract offer of a $50 million package and negotiations broke off at about 2:30 a.m. edt.