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"Dealing with derision and scorn takes guts"



Monday, May 21, 2001

Column
Dealing with derision and scorn takes guts
By Ken Kaye
The Florida Sun Sentinel


A couple of weeks ago, I asserted that ValuJet Flight 592 Captain Candalyn
Kubeck courageously crossed a picket line in 1989 to work for Eastern
Airlines. That didn't sit too well with several airline pilots, some of whom
are no doubt ex-Eastern employees.

They chided me for "glorifying" a woman who was a "scab." They wondered how
"betrayal" could be considered an act of courage. And they questioned how I
could call myself an aviation writer.

"To call someone courageous who crosses a picket line is tantamount to
calling a draft dodger courageous because it takes the same kind of person,
someone with no soul and no moral values," wrote Magnus Rasmusson of Fort
Lauderdale in an e-mail.

"Most feel no pity for someone like Candalyn, and while I don't exactly
agree with this, I can fully appreciate their feelings about the lady,"
wrote Rodney Fitzpatrick of Coral Springs.

No question about it, that was a sad chapter in airline history. About
21,000 workers, including 7,000 in South Florida, lost their jobs after
Eastern went belly up in 1991, largely the result of deregulation and bad
management. But, ultimately, the back breaker was the machinists' union
strike in March 1989, in response to the company's forcing lower salaries on
workers.

After the pilots' union joined the strike, Frank Lorenzo attempted to keep
the carrier flying by hiring non-union flight crews. Lorenzo was the
president of Texas Air Corp., Eastern's parent company, and he was
determined to oust the unions, even if meant taking the carrier down.

To this day he is the object of the unions' burning hatred. So I don't blame
my detractors for being embittered. But I won't apologize.

I think it took courage to cross that picket line because Kubeck became the
target of intense venom. Kubeck's mother, Marilyn Chamberlin of Ramona,
Calif., will verify that. This is what Chamberlin told me: When Kubeck
considered working for Eastern in 1989, other major carriers already had
turned her down. She had limited experience flying as a flight instructor
and charter pilot.

But she was determined to be an airline pilot. Lorenzo coaxed her and other
prospective non-union pilots to apply by saying they could build a new
company together. His real goal, obviously, was to install a lower-paid
workforce.

Kubeck's husband, Roger, a pilot for America West and a member of the
pilots' union, asked her not to take the job because it would put him in an
awkward position. But she did, even though it meant flying out of Atlanta
when the couple's home was in Phoenix. She did even though it put a strain
on their marriage.

"She really thought it was her only chance to fly for a major airline, and
she was quite determined to do it," Chamberlin said.

Chamberlin, too, tried to persuade Kubeck not to cross the picket line
because she feared for her daughter's safety. Members of the machinists'
union had displayed violence, throwing rocks at non-union Eastern employees
in Atlanta, and were court-ordered to curtail their activities. But that
wasn't the only reason Chamberlin was concerned; in the late 1920s, her
grandfather, a Kentucky coal-mine superintendent, was shot by a striking
miner. As a result of lead poisoning from the buckshot, he died two years
later, she said.

After attending Eastern's flight school, Kubeck was assigned to fly on the
Airbus A-300, a large widebody jet. When she crossed the picket line, she
immediately learned the depth of the unions' disdain for "scabs."

"She was harassed," Chamberlin said. "They beat up her car. They threatened
her with rape. They threatened to burn her house down. After she would land,
they were always there waiting."

In the end, Lorenzo's move to fly with non-union pilots did not keep Eastern
afloat, as the company reportedly lost as much as $2.5 million a day.

After Eastern folded, Kubeck again was turned down by the major airlines and
told she had been blacklisted. She applied to ValuJet, an upstart
non-unionized carrier, and became the 33rd pilot hired. Eventually, she
became a captain, helped instruct less-experienced pilots and was featured
in a training film.

Then, on May 11, 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 crashed in the Everglades, killing
all 110 on board. The accident apparently didn't arouse much sympathy for
Kubeck or her family. "I got a call the day after the crash from someone who
said she was a dirty scab and got just what she deserved," her mother said.

Perhaps it is ironic that Candalyn Kubeck became an object of such contempt;
she always wanted to do the right thing and she wanted to be liked, her
mother said. But she craved an airline career so badly that she crossed that
picket line and, as a result, was terrorized. I'm not saying I agree with
what she did. But if that's not courage, I don't know what is.

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