Chances of widespread secondary boycotts of railroads and other airlines stemming from the machinists’ strike at Eastern Airlines dimmed Sunday as a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order sought by three New York-area commuter railroads.
“The IAM (International Assn. of Machinists) will not set up picket lines at any rail carrier’s property at this time,” union Vice President John Peterpaul said in the wake of the ruling, which ordered machinist union members at the railroads to stay on the job until a hearing can be held Wednesday.
Peterpaul vowed to appeal the restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson. But by Sunday it was clear that Eastern’s machinists, thanks to solid support from the airline’s pilots, were achieving the primary goal of shutting down the airline, without taking the politically risky step of triggering unpopular sympathy strikes elsewhere.
Plea to Pilots
The strike forced cancellation of about 90% of Eastern’s flights for a second consecutive day Sunday as management made a frantic plea for pilots to return to work.
Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner, during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” urgently counseled the unions against using secondary boycotts. He said the Administration is prepared to propose legislation eliminating the right of transportation unions to engage in such boycotts from the Railway Labor Act of 1926. All other unions lost the right to such actions under the Taft-Hartley Act.
“If, in fact, secondary picketing occurs, we will--the President will--send to the House and Senate legislation eliminating that right,” Skinner said.
Threat of Slowdown
The prospect of disruption spreading beyond Eastern to other airlines was raised Sunday by a threat from Henry Duffy, president of the Air Line Pilots Assn., to order a rule-book slowdown by all ALPA pilots beginning at 3 a.m. PST Tuesday. Pilots said such action could include refusal to land under visual flight rules at some airports and insistence on reading back in full instructions radioed from controllers.
It was not clear, however, how many pilots at other airlines would participate in a slowdown.
The machinists strike was called at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. On Sunday, Eastern’s management blamed the severe disruption of service on pilots honoring the machinists’ picket lines, because the lack of pilots has an immediate effect on the airline’s ability to fly.
Eastern President and Chief Executive Officer Phil Bakes urged pilots “to come back now,” and said that “the consequences of not coming back are very clear,” including financial ruin for the airline and lost jobs for Eastern’s 30,000 employees.
“By continuing to stay out, the pilots are committing economic suicide” and are threatening “the very existence” of the airline, Eastern spokesman Robin Matell said.
Bakes declined to rule out the possibility that the airline might shut down this week if it fails to get substantially more flights per day off the ground. He said he was encouraged by signs that more pilots were trickling back to work. He urged others to return to work quickly because “time is very, very important.”
Eastern, owned by Texas Air Corp., lost $462 million in 1988. Analysts estimated that it was losing $1.5 million a day shortly before the strike. The machinists have rejected the airline’s demand that they take a 15% pay cut.
Cuts for Other Workers
The airline says the pay cut is necessary to reduce its losses. The machinists were the only Eastern union workers to hold out successfully against Texas Air Corp. Chairman Frank Lorenzo three years ago when he extracted 20% pay cuts from Eastern’s pilots and flight attendants.
By late afternoon Sunday, Eastern said only 56 flights had operated, and it expected a total of slightly more than 100 to have departed by midnight. Eastern normally operates 1,040 flights daily.
Eastern, however, said it plans to allocate enough working pilots and flight attendants to ensure that its East Coast shuttle service operates normally today. The shuttle, which flies to Boston, New York and Washington, usually has 64 daily flights.
J. B. Stokes, a spokesman for the union local representing Eastern’s pilots, said he doubted that many more pilots would begin crossing picket lines. He said the pilots are angry about demands Eastern is making in separate contract talks with the pilots, including reductions in benefits and changed work rules that will cost them about $64 million a year.
Some Aircraft Abandoned
The strike continued to disrupt air travel Sunday in areas where Eastern is a major carrier, particularly the Caribbean and the East Coast. The airline said late Sunday that 14 of its 250 aircraft remained stranded in Central and South America and the Caribbean, abandoned by striking crews.
In Atlanta, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged President Bush to intervene and vowed to join machinists on the picket line this morning. Bush on Friday declined to order a 60-day cooling-off period. Eastern had opposed federal intervention, arguing that another two months of paying the machinists their current wages would have drained the airline’s coffers.
On Sunday, the busiest travel day of the week, scenes of anger and confusion were played out at Miami International Airport and at airports up and down the East Coast. Hundreds of anxious passengers holding tickets on canceled Eastern flights spent hours in lines that snaked around terminals, hoping to find seats on other airlines or get refunds.
‘This Stinking Airline’
John Vannua of Long Island, N.Y., who had been waiting three hours at the Miami airport to have a ticket validated by Eastern for a flight on another carrier, shouted: “I’m not flying this stinking airline again!” He then tore up his Eastern frequent-flier card.
Carlos and Ileana Rodriguez spent the first day of their honeymoon hanging around La Guardia Airport in New York waiting for their flight to Puerto Rico. Eventually, they were told that the flight had been grounded. “I’m very disappointed and disgusted by the whole ordeal,” Rodriguez told Associated Press.
The airline continued to try to arrange for seats on other carriers for stranded passengers but admitted that flights still had not been found for many of them. The airline also continued its struggle to find seats for cruise-ship passengers who travel to and from Miami on Eastern. “It’s been a mess and we know it,” Bakes told a press conference.
He attributed the lack of preparation for accommodating passengers to a fundamental miscalculation by management, which had expected many more pilots to cross picket lines and ignore their union’s call to support the strike.
Continental Picket Threat
Eastern machinists have also threatened to picket Continental Airlines this week in an attempt to disrupt its operations. Continental is also owned by Texas Air Corp. Continental’s pilots, machinists and flight attendants are no longer covered by union contracts. But picketing might succeed in interrupting critical supplies, such as fuel.
Gregg Amodei, chief steward of IAM local 1932 in Hawthorne, Calif., said Sunday that the Teamsters Union was respecting a machinist picket line set up at Eastern’s air freight operation at Los Angeles International Airport.
Other Eastern machinists union officials said they were awaiting authorization from their union’s headquarters in Washington and from the AFL-CIO before picketing Continental’s facilities.
Continental operated at least three special flights on Sunday to rescue some of Eastern’s passengers stranded in the Caribbean and Miami. But an Eastern spokesman said there are no plans to use Continental personnel to operate Eastern flights.
Bakes said the airline at least for now does not plan to attempt to hire temporary pilots to replace the ones who have refused to cross picket lines. He said this was because Eastern wanted to wait and see if its own pilots will return. “Our very strong preference is to fly Eastern with Eastern’s people,” he said.
However, Stokes, the pilots’ union spokesman, asserted that, even if Eastern wanted to hire temporary pilots, it would have extreme difficulty finding enough with adequate experience and training.
David Villers, a veteran Eastern pilot who was picketing at Eastern’s Miami terminal Sunday, said he witnessed a minor incident indicating that someone inexperienced was in one cockpit. He said a pilot in an Eastern DC-9 shut down his engines short of the terminal and then attempted to restart them while excess fuel remained in one engine. A ball of flame shot across the apron. No one was injured.
Staff writers Henry Weinstein in Los Angeles, and Don Shannon, Don Irwin and William J. Eaton in Washington contributed to this story.