Eastern Airlines on Monday asked a federal judge to order the pilots to halt what it called an illegal strike.
Eastern filed a motion late Monday morning calling on U.S. District Judge Edward B. Davis to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction against the Air Line Pilots Association both at Eastern and nationally. Davis didn't immediately schedule a hearing.Eastern wants them ordered "to cease and desist from authorizing, participating, causing, inducing, conducting, continuing in or engaging in any strike, any concerted refusal to report to work, disruptive behavior in any manner interfering with plaintiff's normal operations."
Eastern said the pilots, under the Railway Labor Act, had to continue negotiating a new contract and don't have the ability to strike. The federal act says unions may strike only after there has been an official 30-day cooling-off period, as the machinists union had.
"We knew that was coming," pilots spokesman Rick Chapman said. He said the pilots union attorneys would study the motion.
The pilots union contends it's not on strike but is honoring picket lines in sympathy for the machinists.
The walkout crippled the airline's top-priority Northeast shuttle Monday morning as the work week got under way, but a court order prevented rush-hour chaos for a half-million rail commuters.
On Sunday, the airline told the pilots they were committing "economic suicide" by honoring the machinists' strike, which began Saturday.
"You can't fly without pilots," Eastern spokesman Robin Matell said at a morning news briefing, before the lawsuit was filed. "It's an hour-by-hour evaluation." Snow in New York City delayed the few flights that were ready.
Most of Eastern's 3,500 pilots and 5,900 flight attendants honored the strike by the airline's 8,500 mechanics, baggage handlers and ground crew. The strike began over Eastern's demand for contract concessions and escalated a 17-month battle at the nation's seventh-largest airline.
The effects of the strike could spread Tuesday if the nation's pilots followed their union's request to strictly observe aviation rules starting that day.
Only 92 of Eastern's 1,000 daily flights took off Sunday, said Matell. The pilots' union put the figure at 68.
The sharp cuts in operations have stranded thousands of Eastern's usual 100,000 daily passengers at airports around the country.
Eastern is aiming at getting about 100 flights into the air today, focusing special attention on its hourly Northeast shuttle service, Matell said. Eastern is awaiting federal approval to sell the lucrative shuttle to developer Donald Trump.
As of 10 a.m. today, six out of the normal 16 shuttle flights had gone out, Matell said.
"Terrible weather has not helped," Matell said.
A morning snowfall in New York forced cancellation of several Eastern flights on the shuttle between Boston, New York and Washington. Before the snow began, Pan Am had announced it was doubling service on the same routes, but Eastern said it could not immediately report the impact on its boardings.
Tim Cook, an Eastern spokesman in New York, said the man who usually tracked such figures was "out throwing bags" as airline managers were pressed into airport duty.
The strike had threatened to spill over into a sympathy action today against 12 commuter railroads around the country. The Machinists called off their plans Sunday after a judge in New York, with its 320,000 railway commuters, issued a temporary order banning railroad workers from honoring Eastern picket lines there.
No commuting problems were reported during the morning rush hour at New York or other cities that faced possible rail labor problems. But the union held out the possibility it would ask the railroad workers to walk out if a planned appeal upheld the legality of such a sympathy strikes.
In public appearances Sunday, Eastern President Phil Bakes admitted that the carrier had miscalculated when it had assured travelers there would be no major disruptions.
Charles Bryan, negotiator for the Machinists', also apologized for the inconvenience to travelers, but added: "This is probably the purest classic case of evil vs. good that's been seen in the history of organized labor. These people were not workers who were greedy or doing anything wrong."
By honoring the pickets and virtually shutting down the carrier, pilots threatened Eastern's "very existence," Matell said Sunday.
"By continuing to stay out, the pilots are committing economic suicide," he said.
The company late Sunday sent pilots a letter telling them to return to work before noon Tuesday or be classified as being on strike. Pilots who are placed in that classification and later go back to work will be required to sign a "preferential recall list," according to the letter from Eastern's chief of pilot operations.