Still-grounded Eastern Airlines officials, trying to get their planes back in the air, are looking in Salt Lake City for a few good strike-breakers.
Classified advertisements in local papers over the weekend announced an open house on June 3 for potential flight attendants, warning applicants they would be replacing striking workers. But the ads also promised an "unprecedented opportunity for growth and success."Steve Warshell, a Socialist Workers Party candidate for Salt Lake City Council, called the ads "flagrant scab-herding." He said all working-class Utahns should be insulted by the union-busting campaign.
Warshell said union disputes, highlighted by the Eastern strike as well as city police and fire labor disputes, are the real issues in upcoming municipal races.
But Bob Burquist, manager of the Salt Lake Eastern Reservation Center, defended company recruitment efforts. "If you're going to fly an airline, you need flight attendants."
Burquist said he expects the center, which employed some 650 non-contract workers, to reopen in early July. "We're definitely going to open. We don't have an exact date."
The airline has been stalled since March 4 by a machinists union strike honored by pilots and flight attendants. Eastern filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy March 9, and any buy-out deals on all or sections of company assets have to be approved by creditors. Donald Trump tentatively agreed to purchase Eastern's profitable northwest shuttle for $365 million last month, after a deal by former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberoth for the entire airline fell through.
The Salt Lake reservation agents have been on no-work status since March 6. When bankruptcy proceedings froze company's assets, Eastern's final paychecks bounced.
Burquist said he assumes most of his former reservationists are still on unemployment rolls, waiting for the center to reopen. "I honestly feel at this point if we've lost 10 percent, I'd be surprised."
Eastern officials say they plan to build a restructured, smaller airline. But union officials are hoping buy-out deals are successful, rather than watching as the airline's assets are sold off on a piecemeal basis.
Cindy Striplin, a striking Eastern flight attendant based in Atlanta, said similar recruitment ads are running in selected cities every weekend. "Of course, we are encouraging people not to interview.
"Some people interviewing are very, very young, and totally unaware there is even a strike going on," said Striplin, a 20-year verteran. "They don't even know what crossing a picket line means."
And Jonathan Graf, a local member of the striking Air Line Pilots Association, said the company hasn't had much success attracting non-union pilots.
"They can't fly their airplanes without pilots. And they still don't have the pilots to fly it," he said. "Basically what they are getting is people who have been fired from other airlines. All the experienced pilots are going to go to an airline that pays well and doesn't have all this trouble."
Sequence of events
Events in the Eastern saga include:
-The machinists union walked out on the airline March 4, in a strike that was honored by pilots and flight attendants.
-Eastern filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy March 9, freezing its assets as well as the paychecks of its 650 non-contract employees at the Salt Lake Reservation Center.
-Donald Trump reached an agreement March 31 to purchase the airline's profitable Northwest shuttle for $365 million.
-Local officials say the Salt Lake Reservation Center will throw open its doors in early July, after previous reopening plans fell through.