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Was Clinton's Phone Call Such A Big Surprise?


Up Front: LABOR PAINS

WAS CLINTON'S PHONE CALL SUCH A BIG SURPRISE?

Hard-nosed American Airlines Chairman Robert Crandall wants the world to think he caved in to Bill Clinton's pressure to end the carrier's five-day strike right before Thanksgiving. Not quite. Clinton Administration officials and sources close to AA say people in "Crandall's camp" let the White House know in advance that he wouldn't object strenuously to an end to the five-day flight attendants' walkout and to binding arbitration.

Crandall isn't eager to concede that. AA spokesman Tim Doke says the airline "wasn't in the business of architecting this solution," but adds that someone else who thought he had the company's interests at heart could have sent the message. Regardless, it was an easy signal to send to Washington: The Clintonites were in close contact with both sides, unlike their hands-off GOP predecessors.

One reason Crandall likely abandoned his hard line was his fear that the White House would play hardball and impose another kind of arbitration. Sure, the carrier had other motives to end the strike: It was losing $10 million to $25 million a day and angering passengers. But Doke says American was concerned that Clinton would bring in a so-called Presidential Emergency Board. And from there, the dispute could have ended up before the Democratic-controlled Congress, which AA felt would favor organized labor over management. Seth Payne and Wendy Zellner EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT AND JULIE TILSNER


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