``I was on strike four months believing I was worth $120,000 a year. I had packed away my uniform. I had packed away my flying gear. And I was going to become the world's greatest computer salesman.'' Jerry Shafer, an 18-year Continental Airlines pilot, never became a great computer salesman. Instead, he rejoined the airline. Trade unionists would call him a scab. But for Mr. Shafer and 600 other Continental pilots -- and perhaps for an increasing share of middle America -- the word doesn't carry the stigma it used to.
``I guess I'm a scab because I crossed the picket line,'' Shafer says. But ``what good does it do if you want to earn a living when the purpose of the strike . . . has apparently failed? When I perceived the goal of the strike was to shut down Continental permanently . . . I wasn't ready for that.''
``You're completely programmed against someone, to hate, hate, hate,'' says John Gaylord, another veteran Continental captain who crossed over. ``All the union's ammunition was gone. It was all chest-pounding. I was sick of the chest-pounding.''
Since returning to Continental, both pilots have been ostracized by the strikers and some pilots from other airlines.
``I do feel bad when I see [one] of my old friends yelling obscenities,'' Gaylord says. ``I'd like to put my arms around him, because I know how his life has been shattered.''
Recently in a Continental terminal, his copilot almost came to blows with a Northwest Orient pilot, he says. But other incidents -- such as pilots in other airliners jamming radio frequencies or not clearing the runway promptly -- have lessened.
For all their problems with the Air Line Pilots Association, both pilots still respect it.
``I really feel they provide a beneficial service in many areas,'' such as air safety, says Gaylord, former head of the union's Denver pilot group. But in contract bargaining after airline deregulation, ``they were not up to speed on it -- outmaneuvered, out-thought, every step of the way.''
``I am not anti-union,'' adds Shafer, who joined the Amalgamated Meat Cutters at 18 and thinks Continental employees might reorganize some day. ``Unions did good for the laborers because they got us out of the sweat shops. I just think unions at times have lost touch with their constituency.''