Tears, cheers signal quick end to American attendants’ walkout



CHICAGO (AP)—After four days of picket line duty, it took less than a minute Monday for Leslie Lindberg’s defiance to turn to joy.

Tears streamed down her wind-burned cheeks as she and other striking American Airlines flight attendants cheered and hugged each other at O’Hare International Airport as word spread their walkout was over.

‘‘Oh, yes, this is a victory,’‘ Mrs. Lindberg beamed, standing in a huddle of jubilant co-workers. ‘‘We must have impressed some good people in good places. They finally stood up and took notice.’‘

Picket lines outside American’s terminal quickly turned into a pep rally as strikers heard President Clinton’s announcement on the radio that both sides had agreed to accept binding arbitration to end their dispute.

Scores of flight attendants, fists clenched, yelled ‘‘Unity Now’‘ and ‘‘APLA’‘ for the union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. Many spilled out from the curb into the auto lane, where drivers honked horns in support. Others rushed into the terminal to call friends and family.

‘‘I decided that this was a job not worth going back to if we didn’t persevere,’‘ said Mrs. Lindberg, a 15-year American Airlines veteran. ‘‘Not 21,000 of us could be so wrong.’‘

The union represents 21,000 American employees. Their strike crippled one of the nation’s biggest airlines at the busiest time of the year—the holiday season.

Some strikers said they knew their walkout, which began Thursday, was risky, but they felt they had no choice.

‘‘I think it’s going to take a while for passengers to trust American again, but it’s a great feeling right now,’‘ said flight attendant Loren Pastirik. ‘‘We wanted to work. We did what we needed to do. We wanted respect from the company.’‘

The strike, the first by flight attendants at American, was the biggest against a U.S. airline since 1989. It centered on pay, medical benefits, work rules and staffing.

Many on the picket lines said the walkout showed the union’s solidarity.

‘‘This is the biggest display of unity in airline history,’‘ crowded Marie Feldman, a 10-year American veteran. ‘‘We went through the worst thing we can go through together. We’re a family again.’‘

‘‘We found our soul and we found our backbone,’‘ said flight attendant Liz Mallon. ‘‘If this is the first strike in our history, you know they pushed us too far.’‘

Todd Ratajczak, another colleague, also was smiling.

‘‘We’ve been beaten down for years,’‘ he said. ‘‘It’s like our just due coming today. It’s like a Bulls’ victory, only better.‘’