It was an ironic scenario at the Salt Lake International Airport Monday night for about 130 Eastern Airlines employees returning home.
They were returning from Atlanta, where they had volunteered to go fill in for striking union employees so that the company could continue operations. But when they returned from their mission, they were told their company had been crippled and their jobs were gone."We were just getting off the plane (in Salt Lake) and they made an announcement to get your checks at noon tomorrow," said reservations agent Colleen Proctor. "I kind of expected it, but it would have been kind of nice if they'd told us some other way."
About 590 Eastern employees in Salt Lake City and between 5,000 and 6,000 employees nationwide were laid off on Monday. On Tuesday, Eastern laid off an additional 2,500 employees.
"We simply don't have any business on the books today," Joe Leonard, Eastern executive vice president, said at a news conference in Miami. "Our competitors have simply been sucking up the traffic, our traffic since March 4."
Tuesday in Washington, President Bush said pilots should not "make the innocent traveling public a pawn" and stood by his opposition to government intervention.
Despite the circumstances, few Eastern employees in Salt Lake seemed to be bitter toward the airline. Many spoke of a "company bond" among the employees. A crowd of fellow employees cheered, embraced and cried with their co-workers as they stepped off the plane Monday and were told the bad news.
"We're here to greet them and tell them we're glad for what they did," said John Miller, a reservations agent.
"We wouldn't have gone to Atlanta if we didn't think there was a future in this company!" Donna Newsome yelled to cheering family, friends and co-workers. "We believe in Eastern."
Meanwhile, pilots throughout the nation showed their support for the Eastern machinists strike and began a "by-the-book" work slowdown Tuesday.
Eastern tried to weaken the strike by telling its pilots to end their strike by noon Tuesday or risk losing seniority. The airline was going to court to make them comply.
No major delays were reported, but Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Michael Ciccarelli in Boston reported delays up to 15 minutes because pilots were asking tower controllers to read the full text of flight clearances and taking an unusual amount of time in getting to runways.
"The fly-by-the-rule procedure is not extreme but it is noticeable," he said.
"We don't like that label `slowdown,' " Air Line Pilots Association President Henry Duffy told CBS's "This Morning" show. "We simply told our pilots to stop taking some of the legal shortcuts that are available to them - things that narrow the separation between aircraft - and just go to a normal book operation."
While company loyalty in Salt Lake City was very evident Monday, so was the bitterness many felt toward striking union employees whose greediness, many said, has cost the jobs of thousands of others not involved in the strike.
"They called us scabs. We're not scabs," said Lisa, a reservations agent who asked that her last name not be used. "I was out there and I was throwing baggage. We volunteered happily to keep the dream flying," she said. "You can thank the damn pilots."
Mark Wells, a reservations agent who also flew to Atlanta to fill in as a baggage handler, said he feels betrayed by the pilots who have supported the strike and crippled the airline. He said that while striking mechanics may be worth more money, baggage handlers grouped into the same union have no right to demand more for what they do.
"I learned their job in three days, and in four or five days of working, we would have been almost as good at it," he said. "They're making so much that they don't want to leave, but they don't like how the airline is run."
Bush repeated his intention Tuesday to stay out of the Eastern dispute unless other unions engaged in sympathy strikes.
ALPA wants Bush to declare a national emergency that would impose a 60-day cooling off period. In Washington, a House aviation subcommittee began hearings Tuesday on a bill that would force Bush to declare the emergency.