Eastern Airlines faces possible strike

Eastern Airlines mechanics are trying to decide whether to accept a new labor contract or to strike. The pact grants wage increases but denies back wages and asks for sacrifices on work rules.

A strike was averted March 13 by a tentative agreement just before a deadline. The International Association of Machinists (IAM) has since extended the deadline to 12:01 a.m. March 24. The union was not happy with the terms described by Eastern as a ''final'' offer. But it agreed to submit them to its members with a recommendation that the terms be rejected.

The proposed contract would provide for a wage increase of slightly more than 32 percent through Dec. 31, 1984. Base pay would rise from $13.15 to $17.40 an hour. It provides for a 6 percent increase on April 1 and Nov. 1, 6 percent more in April 1984, then a final 11 percent on Nov. 1, 1984. Eastern estimates the higher pay and fringe benefit increases would have ''a total impact of more than

The amount of money is in line with IAM's demands, except for two points: The union wants back pay into 1982, when members worked without a contract at 1981 wages, and it wants larger raises this year and less in 1984 - with a minimum 10 percent retroactive to Jan. 1, 1983. Unless it gets retroactivity and the larger minimum, IAM representatives say members ''should take a hike,'' i.e., strike.

Charles Bryan, an IAM negotiator, said settling without back pay for 1982 would set a precedent ''impossible for us to live with,'' because employers might take it as a sign that in bargaining, they could ''delay and delay and delay settling, because delays would pay off for them.'' He called for ''vigorous rejection'' of the terms.

Frank Borman, chairman and president of Eastern Air Lines, said that recommending rejection with an expectation of new negotiations is ''very foolish'' in an industry having serious financial problems. While Eastern would continue operating during a strike, it would be ''very, very damaging'' to the company and its employees, Mr. Borman said.

While some observers see a strike as inevitable if the deadlock isn't broken, many industry sources look for some give on both sides if a showdown occurs next week.

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