Billionaire developer Donald Trump's move to cut a cheaper deal for Eastern Airlines' Northeast shuttle was welcomed by the carrier's striking labor unions, which claim that management is seeking to dismantle the airline.
"We're happy to see Trump take the position that he is," said Jim Conley, a spokesman for the machinists union in Washington. "This is part of the entire Eastern system and should not be let loose."Meanwhile, Texas Air Corp. faced another dispute when flight attendants called a strike at Continental Airlines, Eastern's sister carrier.
No flights were canceled and Continental said it would replace the 35 attendants who walked out Monday, but the union president predicted the strike would spread.
In a letter Monday to Texas Air Chairman Frank Lorenzo, Trump said the 17-day-old strike that has crippled Eastern's flight schedule had eaten into the once-profitable shuttle's market share and depressed its value.
Trump said he was looking for a reduction "in excess of $125 million" from the $365 million he agreed to pay last year. He said he considered $200 million a reasonable price now.
Eastern fired back a letter to Trump the same day, saying it was entertaining other offers for the shuttle, including one unsolicited bid Monday morning, and invited Trump to submit a new bid.
New job actions against Continental were expected Tuesday by Eastern's unions, which they claim has been siphoning off Eastern assets since long before the strike began March 4.
Flight attendants at Continental said they were striking to protest wages of $11,000 to $15,000 a year, which they say are 30 to 50 percent below those at other carriers.
Lewis Jordan, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the airline, said a $19 million wage and benefit increase implemented on Jan. 1 brought Continental's wages up to par in the industry.
Union of Flight Attendants President Carla Winkler said she believes the strike will broaden as more attendants become aware of it.
"I'm sure there may be cancellations and there may be delays," she said. "But I doubt we'll be shutting down the airline."