Under pressure from labor, the White House is taking a hands-off stance on a controversial measure to require costly airline payments to pilots and other employes whose jobs are affected by mergers, route transfers or the sale of as little as one-fifth of a carrier's assets.
The measure, contained in an otherwise noncontroversial House-Senate conference report set for a Senate vote this week, guarantees furloughed employes up to 60 percent of their salaries for up to five years. Severance pay alone for a pilot with average earnings could cost an airline $190,000.
Less than a month ago, David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told Congress the administration opposed the bill as "an intrusion by the federal government into private collective-bargaining negotiations." He said the move could especially damage airlines that need to make structural financial changes in order to survive.
The new neutrality, enunciated yesterday by Deputy White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes, reflects considerable dissension. The bill conflicts with the administration's stated philosophy in favor of deregulation and the return of business and labor decision-making to the marketplace.
But some in the administration want to do something nice for the Air Line Pilots Association, which went along with two administration decisions last year: to fire striking air traffic controllers and to allow two pilots, instead of three, in the cockpits of new-generation aircraft.
A close vote is expected on the measure, for which ALPA and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are lobbying heavily. Both unions have contributed heavily to House and Senate campaigns the past few years, although the IAM's contributions were overwhelmingly to Democrats.
The bill is opposed by the airline industry, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States and the Civil Aeronautics Board.
Sam Coats, a Braniff International senior vice president, said he was concerned that the measure could inadvertently affect the airline's chances for a joint operating agreement with another airline. If it does, he said, "it could destroy the chance we might have in putting some Braniff airplanes back into the air and some Braniff employes back to work."