Supporters of striking Eastern Airlines machinists launched the latest phase of their campaign against airline executive Frank Lorenzo here Thursday, but the initiative aimed at Lorenzo’s Continental Airlines appeared to have little immediate impact.
Mary Jane Barry, president of Eastern’s flight attendants’ union, flew here from Miami to start what she called a “Stand Up to Lorenzo, America” campaign. Lorenzo is the chairman of Texas Air, the holding company that owns both Eastern and Continental Airlines, and is considered one of organized labor’s arch-enemies.
“Back in the 1930s, labor supporters invented a tactic which swept the country and unionized the auto, steel, electrical and rubber industries,” Barry said, speaking at a rally outside the Continental terminal at Denver’s Stapleton International Airport. “This tactic was called the ‘sit-down'--the tactic of the ‘30s.”
Thursday, she said, unionists were launching a new tactic, called the “stand-up” to try to persuade passengers not to fly Continental and to impede Continental’s airport counter operations and other elements of its reservation process.
The machinists struck Eastern on March 4 after a long dispute over Eastern’s demand that the union agree to accept reduced wages and benefits. The airline says it cannot afford to keep paying the workers at their current rates.
The machinists have rejected the demand and accuse Lorenzo of stripping unionized Eastern of valuable assets and transferring them to non-union Continental. Both airlines are losing money, and late last week Eastern filed for protection from creditors while it reorganizes under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
After Thursday’s boisterous rally, attended by about 500 people, about 75 to 100 of them walked into the airport and strode to Continental ticket lines.
Michael Camacho, a member of the Communications Workers of America, was the first to reach a Continental counter. First, he told a ticket agent that he spoke no English. Then, when a Spanish-speaking Continental employee appeared, Camacho asked how he could fly to Bogota, Colombia, and engaged the ticket agent in a long conversation about the trip. Finally, he was sent to Continental’s international counter.
A few feet away, another member of the Communications Workers asked how she could get to Johnson City, Pa. She was told that Continental did not fly there and that she would have to go to Newark, N.J. She walked away without buying a ticket.
After several other protesters asked about making trips to out-of-the-way cities, Continental supervisor Michael J. Brzostowski started handing telephones to people he considered bogus customers and suggested that they make their reservations by phone.
A moment later, Lyle May, a 39-year-old union printer, walked up to one of Continental’s eight counters and asked if he could “buy a one-way ticket out of the country for Frank Lorenzo.”
The ticket clerk responded tartly: “Not on this airline.”
Mark Belkin, one of the rally organizers, said the tactics, and perhaps others, would be used in coming weeks against Continental in Houston, Los Angeles, Newark and perhaps other places.
But Continental clearly was prepared for Thursday’s tactics.
The airline had a number of security personnel outside and inside the airport, equipped with walkie-talkies and cellular telephones. In addition, about two dozen Denver police officers stationed themselves at the terminal, and a paddy wagon was present.
Some of Thursday’s rally organizers thought it was possible that there would be arrests and had made arrangements for a bail bondsman to be ready to help. But there were no arrests.
In other developments Thursday, Miami-based Eastern told its remaining 1,500 non-union workers that they will have to put in up to 60 hours of work a week without overtime pay and periodically take time off--usually a week at a time--without pay.
Company spokesman James Ashlock, quoted by Associated Press, also said the employees will share new jobs, such as housekeeping functions. Some of the machinists’ union members worked as janitors.
Before the strike and bankruptcy filing, Eastern had about 30,000 employees and flew 1,040 flights a day. It is now flying about 100 daily flights, most of them on its New York-Washington and New York-Boston shuttle routes.