Pilots Picket Major Airports As Labor-Management Tensions Flare
MIAMI (AP) _ Picketing Eastern Airlines pilots warned passengers at eight major airports Thursday that the carrier’s cost-cutting policies could threaten safety in the skies.
More than 100 pilots and some other Eastern employees protested outside company headquarters in Miami as tension flared over changes made by the new management.
″We’re under tremendous pressure from the company,″ said Jack Bavis, chairman of the Eastern pilot group of the Air Line Pilots Association. ″It goes beyond the question of labor relations. It’s the safety of the airline.″
The pilots protested an absenteeism policy put into effect Jan. 15, which calls for disciplinary action, including possible firing, after seven absences in 18 months.
The policy could intimidate pilots into flying when they have head colds or sinus problems that could affect split-second decision-making, the pilots charged. They also said Eastern wants them to exceed federal standards on hours of flying and to fly planes that have not been properly serviced.
The claims that Eastern is forcing unsafe conditions ″certainly aren’t true,″ said company spokesman Jim Ashlock. ″I think the passengers will recognize this. We’re just trying to bring labor costs under control.
″It’s very simply to bring under control absenteeism that was costing $70 million a year,″ Ashlock said of the new policy. ″That’s far and away the highest of any airline.″
Other informational pickets were at Eastern terminals in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, said pilots’ spokeswoman Julie Graves.
In Miami, uniformed pilots carried signs saying: ″There is no bottom line where safety is concerned,‴’Eastern Airlines may be hazardous to my health,″ and ″The new sick leave policy makes me ill.″
″We think this airline has its priorities mixed up,″ Hank Duffy, national president of ALPA, said at Washington’s National Airport. The union represents Eastern’s 4,500 pilots and 39,000 pilots nationwide.
″We came out today to get our message across and see how management will react to it,″ Duffy said. ″We’ve talked to them directly, and they haven’t listened so we are trying other approaches.″
The company called the picketing a smokescreen by pilots trying to protect hefty salaries.
Labor complaints and tensions have been escalating in recent weeks as the management put in place by Texas Air Corp. Chairman Frank Lorenzo, who bought Eastern last year, has tried to lower labor costs.
President Phil Bakes called two months ago for an annual reduction of $490 million, or nearly 30 percent. The unions representing pilots, flight attendants and machinists say they will resist wage concessions.
″It’s just all-out war trying to break the unions,″ said Charles Bryan, district director of the International Association of Machinists. ″I’ve been around almost 31 years, and I’ve never seen such oppression of the employees.″
Bryan, who said his union has filed lawsuits and grievances protesting Eastern policies, said Eastern cutbacks are making it difficult for mechanics to service planes properly.
Mary Jane Barry, head of the flight attendants union, said Eastern is waging ″psychological warfare″ and has increased firings of senior flight attendants.
Eastern has lost $350 million since 1983. Bakes moved to Eastern from Continental Airlines, which under Lorenzo voided union contracts in 1983 and slashed salaries in its transformation to a low-cost carrier. Texas Air also has absorbed New York Air and People Express.
Also on Thursday, Eastern announced its low-cost approach helped produce a record month. The 3.5 billion revenue passenger miles flown in March were the most ever flown in a month by Eastern, breaking the August 1986 record, the company said.