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AFL-CIO Vows to Support Eastern Strike : Machinists May Picket All Transportation

From Staff and Wire Reports

AFL-CIO officials said Tuesday that they would urge their 14 million members to picket, boycott and otherwise rally against Eastern Airlines nationwide if the company’s Machinists union goes on strike Saturday.

Machinists said they, too, would picket Eastern’s sister carrier Continental Airlines plus other airlines, ships and other transportation services covered by the federal Railway Labor Act.

“We’re talking about a total disruption of transportation in this country,” said Frank Ortis, Machinists Local 702 vice president.

Machinists leaders have been authorized by their 8,500 members to call a strike after midnight Friday, which marks the end of a 30-day cooling-off period set by federal mediators.

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Ortis and AFL-CIO strike organizer Gary Horton participated in a rally and news conference here in which dozens of local unions were represented. There also were labor meetings in up to 13 other cities Tuesday.

Several Actions Planned

AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and the federation’s executive council had pledged support for the Eastern Machinists last week, and union officials on Tuesday outlined plans to widen any Machinists strike.

“We will urge our 14 million members not to cross any picket lines,” Horton said. “It means that those members would probably not fly on Eastern or Continental. Secondarily, they would be out to rallies, they would be out to strike sites, they would be out to financially support the Machinists” and other Eastern workers.

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Eastern officials have expressed doubt that the Machinists can legally or practically spur a nationwide action.

In Washington, the National Mediation Board continued its efforts to bring the two sides to a settlement before the strike deadline.

Eastern, which says it is losing more than $1 million a day, wants $150 million in wage concessions from the Machinists, who represent mechanics, baggage handlers and other ground services workers.

The mediation board, which entered the 17-month contract dispute in January, 1988, has asked President Bush to appoint an emergency panel that could delay a strike 60 days. Eastern says it can’t afford such a delay, but the AFL-CIO and Machinists support the emergency panel.

Hearing Scheduled

Separately, the Machinists union filed court papers denying the company’s complaint to U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins that the Machinists were violating Atkins’ injunction against a work slowdown. The union claimed Eastern was fabricating a work backlog and slowdown to gain court permission to hire outside contractors for maintenance work.

Atkins said scheduled a hearing for 11:30 a.m. EST today after reviewing the Machinists’ response, which said workers were being forced to work mandatory overtime but weren’t given enough work to do, allowing the company to cite decreased productivity as a slowdown.

The Eastern pilots union said Tuesday that it was continuing talks with management about a new contract covering job security and other issues.

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Air Line Pilots Assn. leaders have urged their 3,500 Eastern members to honor Machinists picket lines. However, pilots union members indicated last week they might cross picket lines if Eastern agreed to a concessionary contract.

Pilots generally are considered the most crucial and hardest-to-replace airline employees in a strike.

Eastern has declined comment on negotiations this week.

Meanwhile, at a Los Angeles news conference, Southern California labor leaders expressed solidarity with the Eastern machinists and urged President Bush to appoint an emergency panel to avert a strike.

William R. Robertson, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) said that unless Bush appoints the board within the next few days, a strike seems inevitable.

“President Bush can avert this conflict by appointing an emergency board immediately to provide meaningful fact finding in a dispute we believe might become one of the worst in airline history.”


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