Striking Pilots, United Rule Out Compromise on Back-to-Work Issue

Times Staff Writers

Positions in the 12-day-long strike by pilots against United Airlines hardened Tuesday, as both sides claimed that moral principles prevent them from compromising.

In back-to-back news conferences at opposite ends of a corridor in a UAL-owned hotel here, United's chief executive officer rejected an immediate resumption of negotiations, and the pilots charged that United's management wants to break their union.

Two Critical Demands

Although the airline and the Air Line Pilots Assn. have compromised on the strike's key economic issue, United Chairman Richard Ferris said that talks on a back-to-work agreement will not be resumed until the pilots give up two critical demands.

Immediately afterward, John Leroy, a spokesman for the airline's 5,000 striking pilots responded: "We haven't blinked yet . . . and we won't blink."

Leroy charged that United is more interested in breaking the union than restoring service, which has remained at 14% of pre-strike routes.

No Talk Prospects

The National Mediation Board, which presided over a week of discussions that broke down Saturday, said there are no prospects for continued talks.

Kim Darby, vice president of a nationwide airline pilot job bank, suggested that after nearly reaching a settlement, both sides are now doing little more than rhetorically jockeying for position.

And George James, a New York airline industry analyst who noted that both sides have financially and psychologically prepared for a long strike, added: "If we don't see a settlement in the next few days, it could be a long haul."

At his news conference, Ferris repeated the airline's threat to hire thousands of experienced pilots to "rebuild" the airline without the striking pilots, who walked off the job May 17, forcing the airline to cut its daily service from 1,550 flights to 209.

Points of Contention

Ferris said several matters the pilots want to incorporate in a back-to-work agreement are not negotiable. They include:

--The union's demand that United commit itself to hiring 500 newly trained pilots who were offered jobs when the strike began but refused to cross the picket line.

--The union's demand that all flight attendants who are honoring the strike be rehired with no loss of seniority.

Both issues, Ferris said, are outside the union's jurisdiction, since the pilot-trainees were never hired, and another union, the Assn. of Flight Attendants, represents the attendants.

"We think it is appropriate that the union rethink its position," Ferris said.

Response From Pilots

Pilots spokesman Al Vazquez responded: "If those aren't negotiable, I don't know what there is to negotiate."

United says it can find enough experienced pilots in other airlines to expand service to 25% of pre-strike capacity by July 1 and to 100% by the first quarter of next year.

Pilots spokesman Leroy estimated that it would take two years or more for the airline to find and train enough pilots to completely restore service. The Future Aviation Professionals of America, an Atlanta-based job bank for pilots, said last week that United had overestimated the number of available, experienced pilots.

Machinists a Factor

Darby, vice president of the Atlanta pilot job bank, suggested that "the trump card" in bargaining leverage "is probably the mechanics," a reference to the International Assn. of Machinists, which represents United's 15,000 mechanics. The machinists' strike in 1979 forced United to shut down completely for 58 days.

The machinists union Friday sent United a letter that, in effect, threatened a sympathy strike if United proceeds with its plan to replace striking pilots by recruiting personnel from other airlines.

Officials of the machinists union, which has a no-strike clause in its contract with United, have declined to discuss their position.

In a related matter, published reports indicated that because of the strike, United might be vulnerable to a take-over attempt. Trading in United stock picked up last week.

Larry Green reported this story from Chicago and Bob Baker from Los Angeles.

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