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Pilots’ Slowdown Fizzles; Bush Vows No Intervention : Eastern Sends 2,500 More Home

From Times Wire Services

Threats that the air travel system would be clogged nationwide by pilots painstakingly working by the rules fizzled today as Eastern Airlines sent 2,500 more workers home, blaming pilots for leaving it with “no business on the books” in the fourth day of a machinists’ strike.

The pilots union had asked its 40,000 members to follow rule books stringently today, and there were fears of havoc as delays piggybacked around the country. But while the union said two-thirds of its members followed the directive, delays were few.

“The reports we have are that there has been no effect on operations,” said Capt. Roger Hall, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Assn.

The union contended that its action was not a slowdown but an effort to ensure safety during the strike.

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President Bush in Washington said pilots should not “make the innocent traveling public a pawn” and he stood by his opposition to government intervention to stop the walkout by the 8,500-member machinists union, which represents mechanics and ramp service workers.

Bush said that if the machinists try to shut down rail service he will ask Congress to ban such secondary boycotts. He said the strike should be settled through bargaining, but no talks have been scheduled since the strike began Saturday.

In New York, a federal judge today extended until Friday a restraining order barring rail workers from staging secondary strikes in sympathy with the Eastern strikers.

U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson had ruled Sunday in favor of three New York area railroads, which carry about 320,000 commuters into New York daily, who were concerned that their employees would honor secondary pickets.

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The Eastern strike, the culmination of a 17-month labor dispute, nearly grounded the airline, stranded thousands of passengers and pushed the nation’s seventh-largest airline to the brink of collapse. The airline wants $150 million in concessions; the machinists want $50 million in raises.

Eastern has said it lost more than $1 billion this decade and is losing $1 million a day.

“Clearly that has gotten worse,” Joe Leonard, Eastern executive vice president said at a briefing announcing the layoffs of 2,500 more people.

“Yesterday’s layoffs ended up hitting almost 7,000 innocent employees, rather than the 5,000 we announced earlier,” he said. “With no pilots, we are running 4% of our normal flight schedule. Economic realities forced by this 4% schedule simply wipe out 9,500 jobs for people who want to work.”

Just 1,500 employees are working, down from 31,200 before the strike, he said.

“We simply don’t have any business on the books today,” Leonard said. “Our competitors have simply been sucking up the traffic, our traffic, since March 4.”

“I think there’s a very strong possibility that Eastern Airlines as we knew it last week will never come back. It’s very wounded,” Leonard said.

Some union members have speculated that Eastern’s owner, Texas Air Corp., and its chairman, Frank Lorenzo, are trying to tear the carrier apart.

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