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Eastern's Decline . . .

March 19, 1989

Eastern Air Lines, battered by years of brawling between management and labor, is on its own for at least two more weeks as it looks for a place to land.

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last week to force President Bush to order striking machinists back to work, with federal mediators spending 60 days trying to bring order out of Eastern's internal chaos. But the Senate recessed for two weeks without acting on the bill, so government will be out of the picture at least that long.

Besides, as The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, the anger among Eastern workers, pilots as well as machinists, is so intense that "the instincts for self-preservation that normally propel labor disputes toward resolution seem notably missing." Sixty days are not likely to dampen the anger or undo antagonisms that have been building for more than a decade.

Whether Eastern finds a place to land depends partly on what Frank Lorenzo, president of Texas Air Corp., which owns Eastern and Continental airlines, wants to do and partly on what a bankruptcy judge will let him do. Lorenzo has talked about selling off Eastern's fleet, its ownership of landing slots at major airports and other assets piecemeal. He also has talked of keeping the airline going as is or selling it.

Eastern must not be allowed to fold. It is needed in the nation's network as part of the competitive structure that keeps prices down, a structure in which, ironically, Lorenzo once was a pioneer. But today's labor/management chemistry is so toxic that new ownership is Eastern's best hope for a place to land. And time is running out.

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