The Herndon EAL Strike Center Records document the 265 day strike on Eastern Airlines (EAL) from March 4, 1989-November 23, 1989. During this period 3400 of
4200 EAL pilots went out on sympathy strike along with the flight attendants represented by the Transportation Workers Union (TWU), both of whom voted to honor the
International Association of Machinists (IAM) strike of Eastern Airlines.
In 1986, Eastern Airlines was bought by Frank Lorenzo and placed under Texas Air Corporation (TAC), which had previously purchased Texas International, Continental
Airlines, People’s Express, and New York Air. This change in management was not welcomed by the pilots or flight attendants on EAL, as Lorenzo had a bad reputation in labor circles for his Chapter 11 tactic on Continental where he declared bankruptcy and voided all union contracts. Lorenzo immediately pushed for changes in pay and work rules, refused to allow his employees any role in the decision making process, and ignored the strained labor relations he was creating. Labor relations were already poor on EAL, and ALPA and TWU had both almost struck in 1986, now both groups were unhappy with the cuts Lorenzo was attempting to push on them. The IAM entered negotiations which went into arbitration, and after a 30 day cooling-off period they struck on March 4, with the pilots and flight attendants following suit in a sympathy strike.
Management, by refusing to communicate with the unions, were quite out of touch with their employees and believed they could withstand an IAM strike because
they did not think the pilots would support the IAM. The EAL Master Executive Council (MEC), however, voted to sympathy strike and walked off with the IAM, crippling Eastern’s flight operations. On March 9th, Eastern declared bankruptcy, but because of a change in bankruptcy laws, as long as the unions continued to negotiate, Lorenzo could not void their contracts. As the summer went on the Eastern MEC Chairman, Jack Bavis,
realized the strike was doomed; the bankruptcy court judge, Lifland, was allowing Lorenzo to sell off planes, gates, and routes, as well as the profitable reservation system and the Shuttle route at less than market value, he had also refused all buyout offers from outsiders. In late July, Bavis presented the striking pilots with a back to work agreement from the company and backed by ALPA president Hank Duffy, but the pilots refused as
they had become invested in the strike and would not to go back to EAL until Lorenzo was gone. The EAL MEC recalled Bavis in September, replacing him with the more
militant Skip Copeland to continue the strike. By this time Eastern had scaled back operations, and replacement pilots were already flying the reduced flight schedule, in addition there were no more viable buyout offers. The pilots petitioned Congress to pass a bill forcing President Bush to declare a Presidential Emergency Board, which was usually the way government handled most major airline strikes; Congress passed the bill, but Bush vetoed it. The next day, November 23, the EAL MEC voted to end the sympathy strike and return to work. Eastern Airlines would never recover however. By the time the strike ended there were few, if any, jobs for returning workers, and, with their financial problems continuing, Eastern Airlines ceased operations permanently in January 1991.