NEW YORK (AP) _ The Air Line Pilots Association announced Tuesday that a majority of its members had voted to continue special payments to striking Eastern Airlines pilots.

ALPA declined to provide the vote tally, saying only that a simple majority of the returned ballots was needed to maintain the strike benefits for another six months.

The announcement provided a morale boost for the 2,400 or so Eastern pilots in their eighth month of a walkout, after numerous setbacks in their fight against Frank Lorenzo, chairman of Eastern's parent Texas Air Corp. Pilot leaders had warned that if ALPA abandoned the Eastern pilots, the national union's bargaining position with all the carriers would have been weakened.

When the strike against Miami-based Eastern began on March 4, there were about 3,600 pilots at the airline. Their ranks have thinned since then as financial pressures have forced scores of pilots back across the picket lines and others have retired or found jobs at other carriers.

Ron Cole, a spokesman for the striking pilots, said the ALPA vote will bolster people still on the picket lines.

''It wasn't unexpected, because professional pilots understand that the outcome of the Eastern strike will have a direct bearing on their own futures,'' he said. ''I think it gives them a show of support from their fellow pilots and will help continue their strong resolve.''

The 40,000 or so ALPA members were asked to vote last month on whether they wished to keep paying about 3 percent of their salary to their colleagues at Eastern, which is trying to emerge from bankruptcy protection as a smaller carrier. ALPA declined to say how many pilots voted.

Pilots at the other airlines have provided strike benefits to Eastern pilots averaging about $2,400 a month per flier since the walkout began.

The pilots were a crucial element of support in the strike by Eastern's Machinists union which also was joined by the airline's flight attendants.

''It's a tremendous morale boost,'' Eastern Machinists leader Charles Bryan said in a telephone interview from Miami. ''It will certainly give our people a boost to know that ALPA supports their strike that strongly.''

Eastern spokeswoman Karen Ceremsak said the airline had no comment on the matter.

Later this week the Senate could vote on a bill, supported by the Eastern unions, to set up a blue-ribbon commission that would investigate the Eastern dispute. In a vote last week, the Senate decided to cut off debate on the bill.

But the White House and the Transportation Department have lobbied heavily against the bill, and President Bush is likely to veto it. In that case, if Congress couldn't muster the votes to override his veto, the pilots could suffer a blow to morale.