Members of Eastern's Salt Lake crew are still up in the air about when they'll be back handling phones and booking flights, but Howard Spieler says he'll be at his desk at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Spieler, a customer service agent for the Salt Lake Reservation Center, has been on non-work status along with some 649 non-union reservationists since March 7. "I'll be at my job," he said. "I don't know what I'll be doing. I was told we were coming back at the same salary."Eastern officials in Salt Lake City say they know little about an agreement between Peter V. Ueberroth and the airline's unions that could lead to restructuring of the company - except that the center remained closed Tuesday. Laid-off employees had been told to report back to work Tuesday but received word Monday afternoon that the center wouldn't open again until Wednesday.
"We haven't heard a word," said Jack Huddleston, center operations manager Tuesday morning. "The only thing we heard yesterday is that we would not be opening today."
Huddleston said local officials are confident the Salt Lake Center will be a player in the airline's reorganization. On a daily basis, they are awaiting directions from corporate officials.
Spieler and company officials are banking on the bargaining power of Ueberroth, who is under a court-ordered deadline of Tuesday midnight to reach agreement with the unions in his effort to emerge as Eastern's $464-million-man. Ueberroth and his investor group claimed a "historic labor partnership" Monday but refused under a gag order to provide details of his agreements with the striking International Association of Machinists, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Transport Workers Union.
In Salt Lake City, Eastern pilot Jonathan Graf, a member of the pilots union, said Tuesday morning that he is still awaiting notice from union officials as to when he'll be back in the cockpit. "They are still meeting, and they've got a gag order on them, so they haven't told us too much."
"We have one more major bridge to cross," an exhausted Ueberroth told reporters outside the bankruptcy courthouse in Manhattan Monday evening after four days of negotiations. "And that's right here in this courthouse. That bridge must be crossed. There's no guarantee we will cross it."
Sources speaking on the condition of anonymity said the unions had agreed to big wage concessions but demanded that the bankruptcy court appoint a special trustee to operate Eastern as the airline attempts to emerge from Chapter 11. The unions want to ensure that Frank Lorenzo, chairman of Eastern's parent, Texas Air Corp., won't play a role in Eastern's reorganization. Lorenzo must OK the changes if the deal is to proceed, as do Eastern's major creditors and Texas Air.
Salt Lake's non-union employees say they are concerned about their future in the company, because their group, consisting of 11,000 employees, is not represented in the current bargaining talks. "I'm not sure who is bargaining for non-contract," Spieler said. "I don't think anybody is bargaining for the non-contract employees. The airline has worked like that for a long time. I think there might be a need for representation. We've got to have some say so and some voice."
The five-year tenative deal reportedly gives the unions a 30 percent share of the Miami-based airline in exchange for $210 million in pay cuts and work-rule concessions.
Spieler said the non-union employees expect to share in company ownership, but they question who is arguing for their salary and work rights during the current negotiations.
The nation's seventh largest airlines has been grounded since the machinists union struck March 4 and the pilots and flight attendants walked out in support. Eastern filed for bankruptcy protection five days later.
Under the tentative agreement, the machinists union would give up about $150 million in wage and benefit cuts. That's fair, according to Graf and fellow local pilot Bruce Quigley, because the other unions and the non-contract accepted massive pay cuts three years ago when Lorenzo bought the airline.
Ueberroth and others have declined to give details because of a gag order imposed by Bankruptcy Judge Burton R. Lifland.