Striking Eastern Airlines workers paralyzed the financially strapped carrier Saturday, overwhelming management efforts to run a skeleton schedule and vowing to incite mass-transit chaos when the workweek starts.
Eastern managers thought they had prepared for the strike that began at 12:01 a.m. by hiring non-unionists and slashing the weekend schedule by up to 75 percent. Many passengers were rerouted to flights offered by rival airlines.But when most pilots and flight attendants honored the machinist lines it threw the company's strike battle plan into disarray, and only 35 planes got off the ground by late Saturday.
"We've been able to mount only a limited schedule today," company spokesman Robin Matell said, admitting that strike contingency plans fell well below management projections. "We were relying on what the pilots were telling us. Obviously, in that sense, it was a miscalculation."
Matell told a late afternoon news conference the airline expected more pilots to report for work Sunday. But Ron Cole, Eastern pilots union spokesman, said: "It's very clear the airline isn't going to fly without us. The ball is in management's court."
The machinists and sympathizers said they were mobilizing for massive pickets Monday that threatened to cause rush-hour nightmares, especially in the congested New York metropolitan area. Strikers planned picketing at commuter railroads and received assurances that no rail workers would cross their lines.
"This thing will really take off on Monday, when we take out the railroads," Machinists Local 1894 President Michael O'Connell at Kennedy International Airport said. "And we're prepared to do that."
In Philadelphia, a federal judge enjoined railroad workers in that city's mass transit system from honoring Eastern picket lines, and authorities in New Jersey said they were seeking a similar order against any secondary walkouts. They exhorted commuters to carpool or stay home if the disruption spread.
"There is no question that if the boycott occurs, it will cause massive delays and severely inconvenience New Jersey residents," said state Transportation Department Commissioner Hazel Frank Gluck.
Frank Ortis, a machinist union local vice president, told The Associated Press the union was considering a picket on Monday of Eastern's suppliers and contractors - including the Miami offices of British engine maker Rolls-Royce.
In Washington, John Peterpaul, general vice president of the machinists, said picketing was organized at Eastern points nationwide and union officials were mapping prospective sites for secondary picketing.
But Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner said the Bush administration would seek emergency legislation, if necessary, to prohibit strikers from broadening their protest to "hold American industry hostage."
The mass walkout that began at 12:01 a.m. Saturday by 8,500 mechanics, bag handlers and ground crews escalated a 17-month union-management battle at the nation's seventh largest airline, which ordinarily schedules more than 1,000 flights with 100,000 passengers daily.
Both sides were deadlocked on $150 million in wage concessions that company boss Frank Lorenzo demanded in order to keep the carrier alive. Talks collapsed in Washington at midnight Friday and no new discussions were planned.
The main target of the striker hostility was Lorenzo, head of Texas Air Corp., which bought Eastern in 1986.
He is widely mistrusted by Eastern workers because of what they call his triumphant union-crushing campaign at sister carrier Continental Airlines in 1983. Many accuse him of provoking the strike to do the same at Eastern.
Battered by years of labor tension and growing competition in the deregulated airline business, Eastern has racked up nearly $2.5 billion in debt and claims to be losing more than $1 million a day.
Pickets chanted and baggage piled up at airports from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Los Angeles, Miami to New York City. Some Eastern planes were stranded on Caribbean islands without crews, the company said, and hundreds of vacationers were spending a tropical getaway at ticket counters seeking other connections.
Eastern Airline passengers who arrived at the Salt Lake International Airport were rebooked on other airlines Saturday.
Eastern officals said no one was stranded.
Through March 6, other airlines will honor Eastern tickets, said Billie Hale, manager of airport services for Eastern.
Only two Eastern flights originate from Salt Lake each day- one at 6:45 a.m. and 11:25 p.m. Both flights go to Denver, Atlanta and Miami.