Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, expressing his dismay with Eastern Airlines' treatment of 600 Utah employees, has refused to accept a $1,000 campaign contribution from the financially ailing air carrier.
"I can't accept this check when my own constituents' checks are bouncing," Owens said during an informational picket demonstration at the Salt Lake International Airport by members of various airlines' unions.The picketing, during the Friday lunch hour, was for airport workers to show their solidarity with Eastern employees who have not been paid since a strike earlier this year prompted Eastern owner Frank Lorenzo to file for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Act.
Lorenzo has since blocked attempts by others to buy the airline, and reportedly has been attempting to sell off portions of the company and re-emerge as a smaller airline.
"I have constituents who work for Eastern and have not gotten their paychecks," said Owens. "It seems strange to me that a company that is not paying its debt to Utahns in my district would see fit to voluntarily send me a $1,000 campaign contribution.
"The contribution was not solicited, and based on the way I think Eastern has treated its employees, I will not accept it," he added, saying he is sending the check - which he received two weeks ago - back to the company.
The action was seen as a goodwill gesture by union leaders who clashed with Owens just a month ago over his handling of some Eastern Airlines issues.
Shortly after Eastern filed for bankruptcy, Owens held a meeting with the approximately 600 non-union employees who worked at Eastern's telephone reservation center in Salt Lake City.
Those employees were concerned about getting their paychecks, and Owens offered to ask Peter Billings Jr., a prominent attorney with expertise in bankruptcy matters, to meet with them and give free legal advice.
The gesture to the non-union employees, some of whom crossed picket lines against Eastern in other cities, angered Utah AFL-CIO President Ed Mayne, who charged the congressman was just trying to showcase Billings as his choice for the next state Democratic Party chairman.
Mayne and other labor leaders are opposing Billings.
Mayne said Owens' stand Friday "put to rest" any problems arising between Owens and the unions over the Eastern issue.