With Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as their point man, Senate Republicans thwarted efforts Thursday and Friday by Democrats to obtain an immediate vote Friday on whether to force federal intervention in the Eastern Airlines strike.
Republicans staged a filibuster of sorts, managed on the Senate floor by Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Labor Committee.That forced Democrats - led by Labor Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. - to file a petition Friday seeking a vote to cut off debate. But under Senate rules and because of the upcoming Easter recess, that vote won't come until April 5.
Those developments led Kennedy to pound his desk and yell that Republicans weren't willing to do their part to "solve this emergency."
Hatch raised his voice in return, saying it wasn't an emergency - that Eastern negotiations before the strike had been unsuccessful for 17 months with federal mediation, and that intervention sought by Democrats now would only help unions and interfere with the bankruptcy proceedings that the airline has entered.
In other developments Friday, the beleaguered airline put much of its fleet up for sale and declared an urgent need to hire pilots, and owner Frank Lorenzo publicly acknowledged for the first time that the company might have to be sold.
Eastern said it telexed a bulletin Friday to airlines and aircraft brokers worldwide, inviting offers for many of its narrow-body aircraft, which make up the bulk of its 230-plane fleet.
"The planes for sale do not represent anywhere near the majority of the fleet," said Eastern spokesman Robin Matell. "This is really a matter of exploring the market."
A federal bankruptcy judge in New York must approve any transaction before it goes through.
Lorenzo, speaking in an interview broadcast Friday on ABC, suggested that the Miami-based carrier, now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, might be better off with new owners.
In the nation's capital, the Democrats' bill, which passed the House earlier this week on a 252-167 vote, would direct President Bush to form an emergency board within 24 hours to investigate and report on the disputes between Eastern and its three unions, and make recommendations within 14 days.
It would create a three week cooling-off period, during which the airline would operate and workers would be paid their pre-strike salaries and benefits. Bush could order such action now without the legislation, which he has said he would veto even if the Senate passes it.
Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash., a former U.S. transportation secretary, said federal intervention is necessary "because unless Eastern goes back to flying, there's not going to be much left to save." The airline is said to be losing $5 million a day during the strike and has filed bankruptcy.
Hatch said the intervention would intrude into the jurisdiction of bankruptcy court, which now has the responsibility to objectively protect the interests of management, labor and the company's creditors.
He told Democrats, "You always favor letting collective bargaining take its course, until it goes a direction you don't like. Then you want federal intervention."
Eastern also has opposed the bill because it would weaken its hand in negotiations, and President Bush has said the matter should be worked out between management and labor without more intervention - which he said didn't help much before the strike.
Kennedy and Brock charged that Eastern is trying to use bankruptcy court to break the unions, and meanwhile Eastern's 30,000 employees and thousands of passengers are suffering.
Meanwhile, both sides in the strike are jockeying for position.
The pilots' union reported on Friday that Eastern informed its pilots it is advertising for replacement pilots because it failed to persuade its own flyers to cross picket lines and return to work. The airline, however, denied the union's charge.
An employee buy out of Eastern could also be in the works after a Pan American World Airways union official said Friday he'll meet with the leader of Eastern's striking machinists to discuss a possible joint buy out by employees of the two airlines.
The Senate is also considering legislation at the committee level that would allow Eastern's creditors access to the assets of its parent company, Texas Air Corp.