WASHINGTON — Flight attendants struck Trans World Airlines early today when a midnight negotiating deadline passed without any resolution of pay and work-rules issues affecting 6,000 union members.
Victoria Frankovich, president of the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants, announced that "we are now on strike" after four days of intensive negotiations with a TWA management team reached an impasse after a 30-day federally mandated "cooling off period" had expired.
About 60 pickets were reported at Los Angeles International Airport and about 25 were reported at San Francisco International Airport.
The airline, which lost $193 million last year, had demanded a 22% pay cut for flight attendants and changes in their hours and working conditions that union representatives said would require them to spend 320 hours a month away from home--up from 240 hours at present.
Carl Icahn, the new chairman of TWA, said the wage reduction and work-rule changes were needed to keep the airline in business. He has threatened to dismantle the nation's fifth-largest air carrier and sell off its pieces if the attendants go on strike.
TWA pilots were not expected to honor the picket lines, and the company said it would attempt to fly with supervisory personnel and recently hired attendants in training.
But if machinists refuse to work, that could cause severe problems for continued operations, some believe.
Frankovich told reporters she believed the International Assn. of Machinists, which represents 10,000 TWA employees, would honor the attendants' picket lines and help ensure the success of the strike. "We intend to close this place down," Frankovich said.
Although the management negotiating team had been headed by TWA President Richard Pearson, Icahn himself flew here from New York to spearhead the negotiations in their final hours.
The flight attendants union had offered a 15% wage concession totaling $30 million a year, compared to the $88-million savings that the company was demanding from its larger pay reduction.
Both sides in the dispute had met with federal mediators to no avail, and, in fact, in an atmosphere of some bitterness.
Frankovich told reporters that Icahn exhibited a "sexist view" of flight attendants because "he clearly selected out this group to treat us differently." She said TWA officials regarded the attendants as women who had no need for the same wages as men. Eighty-five percent of TWA's flight attendants are female, 60% are married and 45% have dependent children, according to union figures.
Management representatives did not meet immediately with reporters standing outside the negotiating room at a downtown Washington hotel.
In January, TWA's 5,000 pilots granted the company wage concessions of 30%, and the machinists agreed to pay reductions of 15%.
Frankovich said no further meetings are scheduled. She said her union members will stay out "as long as it takes."
Sally McElwreath, a TWA spokesman, said on Thursday that "we have trained about 1,500 new flight attendants over the past several months, and they would report for duty. In addition, we have, over the last several months, also trained some of our ticket agents, our reservation agents and other personnel."
Union officials, however, said many of those trainees and TWA ground personnel have told them they will not cross the flight attendants' picket lines. In addition, the machinists have given the attendants the use of IAM union halls in three of TWA's seven hub cities--San Francisco, Kansas City and Boston--for strike headquarters, a further indication that many of its members would honor the picket lines.
The pilots cannot legally refuse to report for work because part of their January agreement involved a pledge not to honor a flight attendants' strike.
Icahn has said he would need 3,500 flight attendants to keep the airline operating.