For the last several weeks, Eastern Airlines has been running a school for mechanics who could act as strikebreakers if their unionized mechanics strike, according to three men who said they attended the school at a Marriott Hotel in Houston.
The accounts by the three provide an unusual glimpse into the preparations some companies take to train workers who would be employed in the event of a strike.
Dale Dawson of Reseda said he answered an ad for aircraft mechanics published in The Times classified section on Feb. 19. It turned out, Dawson said, that the ad was placed by an intermediary for Eastern called STS Services Inc. in Reno.
Wording of Ad
The advertisement in The Times made no mention of Eastern Airlines or the possibility of a labor dispute. It simply said, "A&P; Mechanics. Up to $1400/wk. Must have A&P; license. Call 1(800)832-8834."
"A&P;" is shorthand for an airframe and power plant mechanic's license, the basic certificate required to be an airline mechanic.
Dawson said as soon as he called the 800 number in the ad, he was told that he would be working for Eastern in the event of a strike.
"They asked me if I had a problem crossing a picket line," Dawson said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I said 'no.' I did it during the Continental strike in 1983. I said I'm unemployed and I'm mighty hungry," he added.
"The ad may have violated a section of the California Labor Code" that requires any advertisement for workers to be used in an existing or pending labor dispute to explicitly state that in the body of the ad, according to Jay D. Roth, a Burbank attorney who represents the International Assn. of Machinists.
Eastern spokeswoman Virginia Sanchez said the company would not comment on any of its contingency plans or the Houston training programs.
Dawson said an official of STS told him that he would be housed and fed in Houston while attending classes. "Within four hours of calling the 800 number in the ad, they had me on a plane to Houston," Dawson said.
Once he got to Houston, Dawson said he was told that he would be paid $15 an hour, if hired, but that he would not become a full-time Eastern employee for some time and that until then he would have no benefits, such as medical coverage.
He and two others interviewed by The Times said they had a week of classroom instruction dispensed by Eastern employees at the Green's Point Marriott in Houston.
Dawson said there were about 150 "students" at the hotel, divided into groups, while he was there. He added that there were classes offered the week before and the week after, as well.
"It was a 40-hour familiarization course," Dawson said. There were lectures and videotapes but no hands-on work on airplanes. Some of the mechanics were given lectures on maintaining 757s, others were instructed on 727s and DC-9s, according to Dawson and others.
Hands-on instruction was scheduled to begin today.
"It's utterly ridiculous" to think that 40 hours of training would adequately prepare someone to work as an Eastern mechanic, said John Peterpaul, a Machinists' union vice president in Washington. "Some of these guys wouldn't know where the fuel holes are," he asserted. "Our mechanics go to school constantly for upgrading."
Dawson said he was not hired by Eastern. He said that he believed he was not hired because he was adamant about being given a job at Los Angeles International Airport and the company wanted him to move to Miami.
He said he was told that he initially had tested positive for marijuana on a drug screening test. However, he added that he was retested a few days later by the same company that administered the first test and the test was negative.
"I don't use marijuana; I'm a Christian," he declared. But he said STS officials would not accept the second test's results.
Dawson said many of the other 150 trainees in his class were hired. Some of the workers already have been dispatched to sites where Eastern will need them, including Miami, he said. The Times was able to confirm the presence of at least one of these men at the Miami hotel Dawson named.
The individual, Tony Culbertson, 26, of Orlando, Fla., said he had responded to an ad placed in the Orlando Sentinel by STS. Culbertson said he had been a licensed mechanic for six years and had worked on a contract basis for several companies.
"I was trained for a 757" in Houston, he said. "It was good training. I'm glad I went to that school," he added in a telephone interview from a Sheraton Hotel in Miami where he has been waiting for an Eastern official to call him and give him his work assignment.
Culbertson said he had been told he would be paid about $15 an hour. He said STS had flown him to Miami.
Michael Sunshine, STS' chief executive, would not "confirm or deny" any role his company had played in hiring workers for Eastern, though he acknowledged placing ads in The Times and other papers. "I have a number of other positions I've been hiring for," he said.
Asked about the placement of the advertisement, a spokeswoman at The Times said the newspaper runs 5 million advertisements a year and said it checks a list provided by the AFL-CIO on ongoing negotiations and labor disputes to make sure that the requisite warning proviso is placed in an ad, if necessary. "This ad was placed by an advertising agency for a subcontractor, which was not Eastern," Times spokeswoman Carolyn Hom said.
She said that after a Times reporter inquired about the ad Thursday, a Times advertising official called STS and asked about it. A STS official said "most of the mechanics they were hiring were not for Eastern," Hom said.
EASTERN'S SCHEDULE AT LAX
FLIGHT NO. DEPARTS DESTINATION 911 7:45 a.m. San Jose (Costa Rica) via Atlanta and Miami 518 8:25 a.m. Bogota (Colombia) via Miami 96 9:20 a.m. Miami via Atlanta and Orlando (Fla.) 84 1:00 p.m. Tampa (Fla.) via Atlanta 510 1:35 p.m. Miami (daily except Saturday) 23 1:35 p.m. Santiago (Chile) via Miami and Buenos Aires (Saturday only) 80 10:51 p.m. New York (La Guardia) via Atlanta 504 11:15 p.m. San Juan (Puerto Rico) via Miami
FLIGHT NO. ARRIVES FROM 22 10:34 a.m. Santiago via Buenos Aires and Miami (Mondays only) 22 10:34 a.m. Santiago via Lima (Peru) and Miami (Fridays only) 81 11:40 a.m. Atlanta 519 4:20 p.m. San Juan via Miami 89 6:30 p.m. San Juan via Atlanta 505 7:48 p.m. Bogota via Miami 83 9:47 p.m. Atlanta 509 11:51 p.m. San Juan via Miami
Sources: Official Airline Guide (March 1, 1989); Eastern Airlines