Delta pilots open strike center
ATLANTA ” As Delta Air Lines Inc. announced new international destinations Thursday, its pilots opened a strike center to prepare for the possibility of a walkout. A top executive, however, said the friction won’t stand in the way of the bankrupt carrier’s expansion plans.
The nation’s third-largest carrier and the negotiating committee of the union that represents its 6,000 pilots have less than three weeks to reach a comprehensive agreement on a second round of permanent pay and benefit cuts.
If the sides can’t do that by March 1, a three-person arbitration panel will decide Atlanta-based Delta’s request that its contract with its pilots be thrown out so the company can impose $325 million in cuts unilaterally.
The pilots union, which has offered about $115 million in annual concessions, says a strike remains a possibility if the contract is rejected.
The chairman of the union’s executive committee, Lee Moak, told pilots in a memo Wednesday night that he has directed the official opening of a strike center, an office where pilots would prepare for the possibility of a walkout.
“As I have said before, this response is an act of self-defense against a Delta management that seems intent on rejecting our contract,” Moak said.
Delta’s chief operating officer, Jim Whitehurst, said Thursday that the company still believes it can reach a consensual agreement with its pilots.
“We’re certainly not holding up our network plans,” Whitehurst told reporters, referring to the international expansion that was announced earlier in the day. “These are actually things that help morale a lot.”
The company has said a strike would put the airline out of business.
Moak said the airline’s refusal to reduce its demand for concessions makes meaningful negotiations difficult. He said a management proposal offered Tuesday made only “minor cosmetic changes” to its earlier proposal.
“To state that their proposal demonstrates a lack of commitment to reach an agreement would be a gross understatement,” Moak said.
In December, Delta and its pilots reached a tentative agreement on interim wage cuts of 14 percent and other cuts equal to an additional 1 percent-wage reduction. The purpose was to give the sides time to reach a permanent comprehensive agreement.
The permanent cuts would be on top of $1 billion in concessions that Delta’s pilots agreed to in a five-year deal reached in 2004. That deal included a 32.5 percent pay cut.
Delta has reported $11.6 billion in losses since January 2001. It is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter and year-end 2005 results on Tuesday. It filed for bankruptcy protection in September.