ALPA vs. TEXAS INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES/FRANK LORENZO: 1981

Pilots' First Victory Against Lorenzo
ALPA vs Texas International Airlines/Frank Lorenzo: 1981

Cover of CCI produced brochure

In 1981, CCI was contacted by Texas International Airlines pilots who had been working without a contract for more than a year. They were engaged in a bitter struggle against a group of business elitists and former government officials who had been involved in overseeing the airline industry. The notorious Frank Lorenzo was in control of four airline companies: Jet Capital Corp., Texas Air Corp., Texas International Airlines (TXI) and 100% non-union New York Air. CCI's research showed how, in 1971, two 31-year-old financial consultants, Lorenzo and Robert Carney, backed by Chase Manhattan Bank, set up a holding company (Jet Capital Corp.) through which they parlayed $1.8 million into control of TXI, a small Houston airline.

In 1980, Lorenzo and Carney set up a holding company, Texas Air Corp., to funnel resources from TXI into a new venture. Two months later, a "new" shuttle carrier called New York Air was created with TXI money, planes and management. TXI also provided New York Air with routes and airport slots by securing help from former Civil Aeronautics Board chairman Alfred Kahn and general counsel Philip Bakes, both of whom joined New York Air's board of directors. Lorenzo, with support from financial and government allies, was moving rapidly to build an airline empire free of "union interference." Lorenzo was well on his way to taking control of Continental Airlines, having already purchased 48.5% of its stock. With TXI pilots clamoring for help, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) hired CCI to develop a campaign with two objectives: Help TXI pilots secure a contract and stop the threat of New York Air growing into an even larger, 100% non-union airline.

ALPA vs Texas International Airlines/Frank Lorenzo: 1981

Leaflet produced by CCI

In the first large-scale action, hundreds of TXI crew members and supporters were organized to confront Lorenzo & Co. face-to-face at Texas Air's annual stockholders meeting on May 28. In response to the mobilization, Lorenzo twice moved the location of the meeting from places with seating capacities ranging from 100 to 500 persons to a hotel auditorium with a seating capacity of more than 2000. Then the company bused in hundreds of management personnel and office employees in an effort to counter the union's presence. The ballroom was packed and the atmosphere was tense. Despite management's best efforts, the campaign's organized protest caught the company off guard and generated plenty of media coverage hostile to Lorenzo.

An Associated Press story reported people "lined up by the dozens for a chance to give the president of their company a piece of their minds...they accused him of breaking his word and spreading 'out-and-out lies' - and they challenged his ability to run a major airline." At last, Lorenzo was under attack and had been placed on the defensive.

Meanwhile, a grassroots public relations and picketing campaign was directed at New York Air with TXI pilots volunteering to travel to help coordinate activities at various airports. Organizations within and outside the labor movement took part in solidarity actions. Campaign literature portrayed Lorenzo as a financial manipulator preying on his union employees and ultimately, on the flying public. New York Air's well-documented record of overall poor service, terrible on-time performance, lost baggage, bumping of passengers and safety problems was also highlighted in the literature asking travelers to boycott New York Air. Just a few months into the campaign, Lorenzo found it in his self-interest to settle with the TXI pilots and sign a contract.

ALPA vs Texas International Airlines/Frank Lorenzo: 1981

Cover of CCI produced brochure

But the New York Air campaign continued to build. A seven-day-week informational picketing program was begun at New York's LaGuardia Airport on July 14. To recruit volunteer pickets, a political campaign-style direct mail and telephone bank operation rallied pilots and flight attendants. More than 400 pilots, 100 flight attendants and 60 ground personnel from various airlines participated in the picketing at LaGuardia from July 14 to Aug. 10.

On July 19, responding to an expensive (some would say "desperate") public relations ploy by the company, 1,000 people were lined up at the New York Air Terminal at Newark Airport to purchase plane tickets for 29 cents. To the company's dismay, newspaper and TV coverage described the spirited demonstration by pilots and supporters who paraded through the terminal, handing out boycott brochures and buttons to nearly everyone standing on line.

Extensive picketing by volunteers began in Boston on Aug. 5, and a leafleting program at Washington National Airport was begun. Daily picketing was scheduled to start at Newark on Aug. 20. Before that, however, the air traffic controllers struck and ALPA decided to postpone indefinitely all picketing and airport demonstrations.

On Oct. 24, 1983, USA Today published a chart illustrating Corporate Campaign's record, noting that from April to July 1981, ALPA's goal was "to win a contract for Texas International Airlines Inc. pilots (and to) expose New York Air as a non-union carrier." The newspaper acknowledged that the union and CCI "won (the) pilots' contract," but the New York Air "campaign ended with (the) start of the air traffic controllers' (PATCO) strike."