The Eastern strike began a year ago today after President Bush refused a National Mediation Board request to use his authority under the Railway Labor Act to delay the strike 60 days. Eastern had demanded that machinists take pay cuts of up to 36%.
The strike canceled almost 90% of Eastern flights, and when pilots and flight attendants refused to cross picket lines, Eastern canceled even more flights and laid off 9,500 non-union workers.
A month into the strike, the unions nearly won their goal of forcing Lorenzo to sell to an owner who would give employees part ownership of Eastern in exchange for wage cuts. But that buyout plan, orchestrated by former baseball commissioner Peter V. Ueberroth, collapsed a week after it was announced and the strike turned into a war of attrition. Union "victory" became redefined as finding another way of taking the airline out of Lorenzo's hands.
Joseph Blasi, a labor-management relations expert at Rutgers University and the author of a new book on employee ownership of companies, said the Eastern strike is a warning about the warfare that will occur when workers are asked to sacrifice without receiving considerably more power over corporate decision-making.