Delta pilots boost strike pressure


SAN FRANCISCO – Delta Air Lines’ pilots have authorized their union leaders to call a strike if the bankrupt carrier rejects their contract and imposes new terms on them.

The voting, which wrapped up on Tuesday, showed that 96 percent of the union’s pilots voted and 95 percent of them wanted to ratchet up pressure on Delta’s management with the strike authorization.

An arbitration panel has taken over the decision on whether or not the airline can dump its contracts. It has until April 15 to decide on the matter, which involves $300 million a year in cuts.

“Delta pilots will strike if their contract is rejected,” said Lee Moak, chairman of the Delta pilots union, which is represented by the Air Line Pilots Association.

In bulletin-board trading, Delta shares fell 9.8 percent to 55 cents.

Delta is among the airlines with flights to and from the Portland, Maine, airport.

Atlanta-based Delta has said it must exact more concessions from the pilots, who have already taken lower compensation. Other moves, like new financing arrangements, white-collar job and pay cuts and changes to its routes and fleet, have been taken by the airline to staunch the flow of red ink.

Delta’s net losses in February totaled $209 million, narrower than the $267 million loss seen a year ago.

But the company can ill-afford a strike.

The air industry is gearing up for the summer travel season, when fares are traditionally at their highest point and planes fly fullest.

“All too often over the past months, management has attempted to mischaracterize the defense of our contract as posturing, gamesmanship and, most recently, saber-rattling,” said Moak in a statement to members. “They are wrong.”

Delta said that the union vote won’t affect service.

“The traveling public can continue to book Delta with confidence, and we appreciate their business and look forward to serving them,” said Delta spokesman Bruce Hicks.

“In the meantime, Delta remains committed to seeking a consensual agreement with our pilots and is working hard to do so.”

Other unions have recently attempted to use the lever of a strike in their negotiations with airlines’ management.

At bankrupt Northwest Airlines, mechanics represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association are still on strike after walking off the job last summer and have been replaced by contract workers.

Without a strike, Northwest’s pilots were able to reach a deal with the airline early last month after tense negotiations.

United Airlines’ flight attendants threatened strikes and labor slowdowns during the carrier’s bankruptcy but stopped short.

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AP-NY-04-04-06 1734EDT