Eastern Airlines struggled Wednesday to avert a weekend machinists strike, offering pilots sweeter pay, job security and other promises if they sign a new contract and defy a walkout by fellow workers.
“If the pilots and other employees support the picket line and don’t show up for work, Eastern cannot survive,” Frank Lorenzo, chairman of Eastern’s parent company, Texas Air Corp., said in a videotaped message sent to pilots of the unprofitable airline.
The machinists union has threatened to strike at 12:01 a.m. Saturday because of a 17-month-old contract dispute. Support from the pilots would be crucial in their effort to shut the airline down, but it has been unclear whether the pilots would honor the strike.
Lorenzo’s message marked the most dramatic appeal yet by management to quell the latest in a litany of labor crises that have afflicted Eastern for years and have brought it close to bankruptcy.
He promised a five-year contract for pilots with pledges of no furloughs and offered other protections in the event that Eastern sought bankruptcy court protection or was merged into sister Texas Air carrier Continental Airlines. The pact also offers 3% pay increases for 1992 and 1993.
But the pilots union reacted skeptically and said close inspection showed little substance to Lorenzo’s words.
“In his videotape, Lorenzo made a fine theatrical performance,” the pilots executive council said in a statement to members. “Don’t be misled. Much work still needs to be done.”
The council said the offer doesn’t pledge job security and actually contains $64 million in concessions, plus a demand that pilots drop longstanding grievances it said were worth an additional $250 million.
In other developments Wednesday:
- A federal judge took under consideration Eastern’s request to hire outside contractors to service 26 aircraft on the ground but did not indicate whether he would rule before the strike deadline.
- Attorneys for the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said they were seeking a federal court order allowing machinists to picket other airlines with which the international union has contracts.
- Eastern employees reported receiving formal notification of possible layoffs and plant closings, under the new federal 60-day plant closing notification law.
The videotape by Lorenzo, whose Houston company bought Eastern three years ago, warned that Eastern’s survival and the jobs of all 30,000 employees are at risk, according to pilots who watched it.
Eastern, which says it has lost more than $1 billion over the past decade and is losing more than $1 million a day, wants $150 million in wage concessions from the machinists, who represent 8,500 mechanics, baggage handlers and other ground services workers.
In Wednesday’s court hearing, U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins took under consideration Eastern’s request for permission to hire outside contractors to service its aircraft.
Eastern attorneys said 26 of its some 250 planes are on the ground awaiting service because of a machinists slowdown. The company also reported incidents of vandalism.
Los Angeles television station KTTV reported that Eastern has contracted with outside companies, including concerns based in Hong Kong, Costa Rica and Europe, to service its planes during a strike. Elsinore Aerospace Companies of Downey is among companies hired, said KTTV.
In Washington, attorney Joseph Guerrieri Jr. said the machinists were seeking an emergency declaration with the federal court to allow the union’s members to picket other airlines with which the international union has contracts.
The other airlines with machinists contracts are Northwest, USAir, Trans World, United and Piedmont, he said. A favorable court ruling could result in machinists honoring picket lines at those carriers, he said.
AFL-CIO officials have said they want their 14 million members to boycott Eastern and Continental and help the machinists in a strike. The machinists said they will picket other airlines, ships and other transportation services.