American Airlines officials began around-the-clock bargaining Thursday night with leaders of their pilots’ union in an effort to head off an approaching strike at midnight tonight. President Clinton urged both sides to “reach out to one another” and settle their differences.
“We have a long way to go and a short time to do it in,” the airline’s president, Donald Carty, toothbrush and shaving kit in hand, said as he showed up for what both sides expect to be a marathon session of back-and-forth proposals.
Clinton, at a news conference Thursday afternoon, gave no indication whether he would exercise emergency powers to prevent pilots from striking at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. He was urged to do so by the airline’s chief executive officer, Robert Crandall, and by mayors and some members of Congress from areas that would be particularly affected.
The airline canceled most overseas flights and about a dozen round-trip domestic flights Friday so that aircraft would not be stranded at airports with no room to store them for an extended period.
John Hotard, an airline spokesman, said the canceled flights included those into and out of White Plains, N.Y., and Orange County, Calif.
The president, who has emergency powers to intervene temporarily, urged both sides to reach an agreement. Clinton said the airline and the pilots union should “think about how they can reach out to one another in the best interest of the nation.”
Hopes for a settlement rose early Thursday, when the union offered to have its pilots accept lower pay scales for operating jets on regional routes as long as the company accepted its other demands.
But American’s parent company, AMR Corp., says it doesn’t want American pilots to fly the new jets that have been proposed for regional routes. AMR wants its American Eagle subsidiary, with lower-paid pilots from another union, to fly the commuter jets.
The company did not directly reject the offer, but a spokesman suggested the pilots’ plan would not work.
“In reality, those jets are going to be operated as American Eagle or they are not going to be operated,” spokesman Al Comeaux said.