WASHINGTON -- The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization was decertified as the union for striking air controllers Thursday, but a federal appeals court later indefinitely stayed the decertification order.
In an action hailed by the White House, the Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified the union as the bargaining agent for the government controllers, citing the PATCO's leadership of the illegal strike.
But late Thursday, three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia stayed the order temporarily, deputy court clerk Robert Bonner said. PATCO has asked the court to issue a stay.
Bonner said the 'temporary stay' would be 'indefinite, but as of right now the authority has until 4 p.m. Monday to file a response to the stay motion.'
He said the court did not address the merits of the case, but wanted to give the FLHA time to make its arguments on PATCO's request that the decertification order be stayed.
'PATCO asked that the FLRA order be stayed. The court said we don't know but until we have time to consider that we are going to stay it temporarily,' he said.
Bonner said the temporary stay was issued on behalf of the court by Judges Abner Mikva, Patricia Wald and Harry Edwards.
PATCO spokeswoman Marcia Feldman said, 'We're very pleased that the Court of Appeals saw merit in our request.'
The air traffic controllers went on strike against the Federal Aviation Administration Aug. 3 over issues including pay and working conditions. President Reagan ordered them fired for violating a no-strike pledge.
All three members of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the panel that oversees laws covering federal employees, signed the revocation order. Under that order, PATCO would no longer be considered the legal representative for the 11,500 fired controllers or their replacements.
In Cancun, Mexico, chief White House spokesman David Gergen told reporters before the appeals court action, 'We think it's a sound and responsible decision.'
And, despite rumors that conclusion of the decertification effort might lead to the rehiring of some strikers, Gergen said, 'There are no plans to bring back those who went on strike.'
After the FLHA action, PATCO President Robert Poli had told reporters the union would immediately try to block the revocation order in court.
'I am as proud of our members now as I was on August 3,' Poli said. 'We were right then and we are right now.'
'If there was a mistake, it was my mistake and my naivete in believing Ronald Reagan,' he said. PATCO endorsed Reagan in the 1980 election in response to the candidate's pledge to address their on-the-job concerns.
Both Congress and the public are becoming more aware of problems facing controllers and 'the attitude of the government to crush a labor union,' the union chief said.
Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis said the ruling 'reaffirms a basic principle of our democracy, that no person or organization is above the law.'
Lewis said the decertification decision would make no difference in the administration's decision not to rehire any fired controllers.
Union lawyers rushed to the U.S. Court of Appeals to seek an emergency motion to stay the ruling. Russell Bailey, one of PATCO's lawyers, said the union is seeking a delay on grounds immediate implementation of the order would cause irreparable harm to the union.
He also said some 2,000 union members who continue to work would be deprived of their collective bargaining representation.
Speaking to reporters at the Transporation Department, Lewis also announced he would send a wage package to Congress early next week that would provide essentially what the union rejected -- a 11.4 percent increase in pay and benefits retroactive to Aug. 3.
The labor authorty's order opens the way for another union to seek to represent government controllers. It also means the government is no longer under any obligation to deal with PATCO in any possible future negotiations.
However, Poli said he does not believe the order prevents PATCO from seeking to reorganize FAA controllers.
In a footnote to the order, authority Chairman Ronald W. Haughton said he agreed with the decision under the condition that PATCO members be given five days to return to work.
Haughton said he felt the record on the PATCO case 'lacks completeness' and said he would have preferred that additional evidence on 'mitigating circumstances' cited by the union would have been obtained.
Authority member Henry B. Frazier III, who wrote the principal decision, said the law 'plainly requires revocation of PATCO's status as the exclusively recognized representative of the employees in the nationwide bargaining unit of air traffic control specialists employed by FAA.'