Don't blame Eastern Airlines pilots for crippling the company, says local pilot Bruce Quigley.
"We just want a company where we can fly," Quigley said.Quigley, 45, is spending time at his Draper home while seeking a job with another airline. He and colleague Jonathan Graff, 45, Highland, Utah County, are among the 3,400 Eastern pilots supporting the machinists union strike, which began March 4. The two Vietnam pilots estimate that between them they have filled out 60 applications.
Locally, the strike put 650 local non-union Eastern employees out of work at the airline's Salt Lake Reservation Center. Eastern filed for Chapter 11 reorganization March 9.
"We're in a sympathy strike," Quigley said. "The thing about it is we hatethe IAM (the machinists union)."
The pilots believe their side of the story hasn't been told.
Collectively, Eastern employees - except for the now-striking machinists union - have agreed to $1.5 billion in concessions in the past decade. In 1986, when other employees took a 20 percent pay cut, the machinists managed to get an 8 percent raise. "They deserve to take a hit like the rest of us," Graff said. "There's no great love between us, and the company knew this. It would be so easy for him (owner Frank Lorenzo) to get us back. But he won't."
Nationally, U.S. District Judge Edward Davis has scheduled a meeting Monday between the pilots' union and Eastern officials before he will make a ruling about the legality of the pilots' walkout.
Davis must decide whether the refusal by members of the Air Line Pilots Association to work is truly a sympathy strike or an attempt to gain a better position against the airline in future contract negotiations, which would violate federal law. An appeals court in Tallahassee declined on Friday to issue a temporary injunction ordering the pilots back to work.
Eighty percent of Eastern's pilots planned to cross the picket lines in an effort to save their troubled company, according to the local pilots. But they changed their minds March 1, when Lorenzo asked the pilots for additional 11th-hour concessions.
"He needed us, then he slapped us in the face," Quigley said. "Basically, what he says is one thing and what he does is another. That's the cause of the mistrust."
Quigley and Graff say the pilots weren't asking for more money, but wanted job guarantees in the face of their company's troubles. "It was the fact that he (Lorenzo) didn't want to guarantee us a future. He was out to make Eastern the poor stepchild of Continental," Graff said.
Veteran Eastern pilots were afraid they would lose their seniority and be put at the bottom of the flight chart at Lorenzo's other airline. A pilot at Continental is promoted through the ranks to captain in about four years. In contrast, Quigley and Graff both have 16 years with the airlines and expect to be promoted to captain after 20 years. The pilots say that means Continental suffers safety problems due to pilot inexperience.
Lorenzo's last offer asked the Eastern pilots to sign a five-year contract, agreeing to fly 85 hours a month for 84 hours of pay, with no chance of a raise until 1992. Quigley said added to cuts the union agreed to in 1986, pilots would have been taking a 46.5 percent pay cut, as well as agreeing to cut their retirement plan in half.
"That's 46 1/2 percent we're talking about for starters, and we haven't even got to paragraph two (of Loren-zo's contract offer)," Quigley said.
Furthermore, it was Lorenzo's refusal to take contract talks to arbitration that cemented the solidarity of the pilot union's walkout.
Quigley said the pilots have watched as Lorenzo changed their once-proud airline, taking more than $1 billion of its assets to solidify parent company Texas Air Corp. and its other non-union airline, Continental. The veteran Eastern pilot remembers the glory days, when his airline's premiere service was symbolized by its crystal dinnerware. "I think every businessman in the whole world flew one airline, and it was Eastern. Our first-class service was known all over the world. It was a class operation. Now, the business people won't even get on our airline - and I don't blame them."