Pleading the need for a sharper competitive edge, hard-pressed companies in many industries are continuing to pressure unions for wage concessions and productivity agreements.
From the airline to the steel industry, management's message has a familiar ring: Without some help from unions, companies will be forced to close plants or trim their work forces.
At Eastern Airlines, leaders of the carrier's three major unions have approved a $417 million plan for employee wage cuts and increased productivity that management and labor hope will help the financially troubled carrier avert default.
The 375,000 members of Eastern's three unions and 15,500 nonunion workers would receive common stock in the company and a voice in its management in return for $330 million in pay cuts and an estimated $87 million to be gained by Eastern through greater productivity.
The union members must approve the plan by Dec. 31.
The Eastern plan is significant for the surrender of some management rights in return for wage and other concessions.
An investment program under which employees will invest between 18 and 22 percent of their pay in Eastern's common stock (resulting in the wage savings) will give the workers control of about 25 percent of Eastern's stock by 1985. The unions will be given four seats on the company's 18-member executive board.
(When the United Automobile Workers gave concessions to the Chrysler Corporation to help it avoid bankruptcy, the agreement included a seat on the corporation board for Douglas Fraser, then the UAW president.)
Eastern's agreement stipulates that the unions will review and make suggestions about the company's business plans and major capital investments.
This involvement worries some Wall Street analysts. They are concerned as well that the stock investment plan, involving 12 million shares of common stock and 3 million shares of an issue of preferred stock, could dilute present stockholders' equity.
On the other hand, there is general agreement that the savings could offset a large part of Eastern's losses, a reported $128.9 million in the first nine months of l983, and help prevent Eastern from filing a federal bankruptcy petition at the end of this year. Frank Borman, company president, warned last September that this could happen unless the airline got cost-saving concessions by Dec. 31.
Other companies are struggling to win contract changes in wages and work rules from their employees:
Greyhound Lines is awaiting the outcome of a union ratification vote on a contract to reduce wages 7.8 percent and generate more savings through work-rule changes.
Greyhound's 12,700 bus drivers and other employees under Amalgamated Transit Union contract remain on strike, but buses are offering limited service.
Strong worker opposition to the contract has shown up in many cities across the country. Rallies backed by members of other unions have reinforced opposition to the proposed settlement. But union leaders have warned that rejection of a settlement could cost strikers their jobs.
Results of the ratification vote will be known Dec. 19 or 20.
In Pittsburgh, the United States Steel Corporation has called for further contract concessions by United Steelworkers local unions in five states. The company says it hopes to avert plant closings or cutbacks that could eliminate 4 ,700 more jobs in an industry already hard hit by layoffs.
The steel company announcement said, ''Everyone involved should understand clearly that the company will no longer operate (these plants) at a loss.''
The United Steelworkers executive board will meet this week to consider the demands for more concessions than were won in a basic settlement last March.
Western Airlines also has won an agreement under which employees are investing 10 to 18 percent of their pay in common stock; they will eventually own 32 percent of Western's outstanding shares.