Merry Christmas, You're Fired
by Capt. Ken Kahn
I was hired by Seaboard in June, 1967. Six months, later, in mid-December, I received two pieces of mail from Seaboard on the same day. One was a Christmas card from CEO Richard Jackson. The other was a termination notice, effective at the end of the year or whenever my last trip of the month was finished, whichever was later. The letter explained that they intended to re-hire me when business increased. What it did not explain was that they intended to re-hire us with a new seniority date and thereby start our first year again. Since they habitually "furloughed" pilots at the end of the year when business fell off after Christmas, they were able to keep pilots on probation and first-year pay, then about $525/month, for years.*
On Christmas Eve, I flew a ferry flight from JFK to Travis AFB. When I arrived, I was assigned to a trip to Vietnam, less than 24 hours later. The rest of the crew went home. As I was based at JFK, I went to a local motel and went to sleep. When I awoke on Christmas day, the place was deserted. There was no place to eat within sight. I knew there was a restaurant at the Nut Tree Airport so I got directions and trudged over. Naturally, it was closed. I trudged back to the motel and moped around the lobby, hoping to encounter another human. Eventually, a Flying Tigers captain appeared. He was in the same boat and after commiserating for a while, he remembered that he had a can of sardines and a packet of crackers in his flight bag. He went and got them and generously shared them with me. Such was my first and most-memorable Christmas dinner with Seaboard. I am still embarrassed that I forgot the name of that good samaritan and future colleague. Later that day, a motel employee drove us into town in his pickup truck. We found an open luncheonette and were able to get a meal. Still later that night, I departed on my flight to Vietnam. When I got back to Travis, they sent me back to Tokyo and I finally paxed back to JFK from Travis on January 6th, about twelve days after I left home. As soon as I got to Seaboard Flight Operations at JFK, someone in the office told me that ONA (Overseas National Airways) was hiring DC-8 pilots "furloughed" by Seaboard and that I should go right over there.
ONA's operations building was right off the airport so I went over immediately. I found a secretary and started to explain why I was there but she cut me off and told me that they were expecting me and that I should go down the hall to ground school which was in session. A few of my Seaboard colleagues had already been there for a few days. And so I was hired by ONA without an application, interview or even a phone call. Three months later, I was recalled by Seaboard.
*Although I didn't know it at the time, the termination of my group caused an uproar. Two months earlier, the pilots and company signed a new contract, effective January 1, 1968. It provided for a reduction in quarterly flight time from 255 to 240 hours. However, the company asked to postpone the reduction for three months to compensate for the lack of manpower while pilots were training to fly the two Boeing 707's that were due in early 1968. Our union (ALPA) representatives agreed to the request and were outraged when the company, having been given a waiver of flight-time limits, then took advantage of that waiver to terminate pilots. The union filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board. They won the grievance and that was the end of the scam to deprive pilots of accrued longevity.
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