President Bush today refused to intervene in the threatened Eastern Airlines strike, rejecting a National Mediation Board recommendation and leaving the problem to company and machinists' union negotiators who face a midnight deadline.
Bush refused to use his authority under provisions of the Railway Labor Act to appoint a presidential review panel to investigate the labor strife, a step that would have automatically delayed a strike for 60 days.
"The President has decided not to accept this recommendation," White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters.
"The National Mediation Board has for many months attempted unsuccessfully to bring the parties to an agreement," he said, "and the President has no reason to believe that an additional investigation or the 60-day delay that would be entailed would produce such an agreement."
In light of the well-publicized threats of a strike and related activities, Fitzwater said, the Transportation Department "will monitor the situation and will, in addition, take whatever steps are needed to protect the safety of the traveling public."
"The President urges responsible labor officials not to try to influence resolution of this dispute by disrupting the nation's transportation system through secondary boycotts against uninvolved parties," he said. "Such boycotts would unfairly burden millions of citizens, not only affecting necessary travel but also affecting shipments of consumer goods and the ability of workers to earn a living."
Fitzwater noted that secondary boycotts are not permitted in other areas of the economy. He said that if the Eastern Airlines dispute threatens to disrupt essential transportation services, Bush will ask Congress to pass legislation "making it unlawful to use secondary picketing and boycotts against neutral carriers."
"We cannot allow an isolated labor-management dispute to disrupt the nation's transportation system," the spokesman said.
Eastern, meanwhile, sent its machinists home this morning, citing "significant amounts of vandalism" and saying the action was intended to prevent sabotage in the hours before the strike deadline. A federal court order allowed the action.
Federal mediators, who were meeting with the negotiators at an undisclosed Washington location, said an offer made Thursday by Eastern brought hope of a settlement in the 17-month-old dispute.
"They likely will meet pretty much all day," said National Mediation Board spokesman David Bushnell. "I expect it will go right up to the deadline if necessary."
Eastern's chief operating officer in Miami, Joe Leonard, said machinists were given a paid holiday and told to return to work for shifts starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.