Pan Am Mechanics, Baggage Handlers Strike
NEW YORK (AP) _ Mechanics and baggage handlers struck Pan American World Airways on Thursday, sending thousands of stranded travelers to competing airlines as union officials warned of a long walkout.
Most of the carrier’s 19,000 unionized employees, including pilots, were honoring picket lines set up nationwide by the Transport Workers Union, said Pamela Hanlon, a Pan Am spokeswoman.
The TWU struck after rejecting a 20 percent wage increase over three years plus bonuses, in return for increased productivity and reduced health and pension benefits.
″I think it is going to be a long strike,″ said the union’s airline division director, John Kerrigan, who announced the strike of 5,753 mechanics, baggage handlers, flight dispatchers and food service workers at 12:35 a.m. EST.
″The issue here is credibility. The members just don’t trust management to keep its part of the bargain, because they’ve gone back on their word too many times,″ Kerrigan said.
Normally, Pan Am operates about 400 flights daily, carrying 39,000 passengers to 89 cities on six continents, Ms. Hanlon said.
On Thursday, it had scheduled 15 flights - only one of them domestic - out of airports in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Miami, Ms. Hanlon said.
″They just stranded us in Orlando,″ said Rose Simon, who had been on a flight from New York to Miami. ″We got some passengers together and hired a car to drive to Miami. And they sent my baggage to Tampa.″
″We didn’t know anything until we were standing there, baggage in hand, waiting to get off the plane,″ said Abbie Endicott, who was returning home to Washington, D.C., from Santiago, Chile with a stopover in Miami. ″They said ’Sorry for the incovenience, the airline is on strike.‴
In Los Angeles, more than 500 people with Pan Am tickets gathered in the airport terminal, said police Sgt. Patrick Turner. In Detroit, more than 100 were transfered to other airlines.
More than 1,000 management personnel replaced ticket agents and reservation clerks who stayed out with the TWU, Ms. Hanlon said.
Taped messages recorded by Pan Am advised stranded passengers to seek alternate flights on Alitalia, British Airways, Japan Airlines, KLM, Sabena and Swiss Air Lines.
David Venz, a vice president at Trans World Airways, said Pan Am officials were refusing to endorse international tickets over to TWA, its major competitor overseas. Ms. Hanlon denied the charge.
In Los Angeles, where there are about 500 local union members, about 100 strikers marched outside the Pan Am facilities, said Rick Riccardi, a local union spokesman. Picket lines blocked ticket counters and cargo drops in Miami and Honolulu, TWU shop stewards reported. In New York, 200 workers picketed Pan Am at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The union says a 14 percent wage increase it postponed in 1982, when Pan Am, faced bankruptcy, has yet to be restored.
The airline had asked the TWU for cost-saving measures that included the use of part-time workers, more productive schedules for cleaners and commissary workers, and the introduction of a 50 percent lower starting salary for future employees, Kerrigan said.
Pan Am had a pre-tax operating loss of $106.7 million last year. It has not made a profit since 1980, and has cut more than 8,000 jobs in the past five years.
Last August it froze its retirement fund, saying it lacked the resources to pay for it, and asked the workers to pay more for a health insurance plan that gave less coverage.
Most airlines do not release information on the salaries of their employees. Industry analysts said, however, that a Pan Am mechanic earns a top base salary of $29,500, compared to $39,600 at other major carriers. Baggage handlers, who also belong to the TWU, earn $23,800, compared to $31,600 elsewhere.