Delta pilots vote to authorize a strike
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Delta pilots vote to authorize a strike

Delta Air Lines Inc's pilots union said on Tuesday its members have voted to authorize a strike.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2006 15:09 IST

Delta Air Lines Inc's pilots union said on Tuesday its members have voted to authorize a strike if the bankrupt airline is allowed to proceed with a plan to slash their wages and benefits.

About 95 per cent of the pilots voted in favor of the authorization, freeing their union to strike if an arbitration panel rules in favor of more than $300 million in pay reductions that the airline said it needs to survive.

More than 96 per cent of the 6,000 pilots voted, the Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement.

The move is the latest in a series of steps that the union must take before it can call a strike and comes just days before a third-party arbitration panel is scheduled to rule on whether the airline should be allowed to reject its existing contract with the pilots.

Union spokeswoman Kelly Collins said that even though the arbitration panel's decision would be binding, it did not take away the pilots' right to strike.

"It doesn't mean that rejection would be acceptable," Collins said. "(Delta's) demands are overreaching ... and there have been no meaningful negotiations by Delta's senior executives."

Atlanta-based Delta, which filed for bankruptcy in September, has asked the pilots for the givebacks, part of about $3 billion in cost savings and revenue increases it says it needs to survive.

Delta spokesman Bruce Hicks said the airline remained "committed to seeking a consensual agreement," adding that the strike authorization vote would not disrupt service.

The airline initially asked the US Bankruptcy Court to let it reject its contract with the pilots, its only major unionized work force. But the two sides reached a deal in December to have the issue decided by a three-person panel if they failed to negotiate a permanent agreement by March 1.

The panel is scheduled to rule on April 15.

The union, which agreed to a previous round of pay cuts to help Delta avoid an earlier brush with bankruptcy, has said that the airline's demands are excessive, noting that they agreed to a 32.5 percent pay cut just 15 months ago.

The No 3 US carrier is calling for givebacks that include another 18 per cent pay reduction.

Strike threats are "a typical step to gain leverage at the bargaining table," Anthony Sabino, a business law expert and professor at St John's University, said in a note.

But if the union follows through on the threat, it would almost certainly be the end of the airline, he said.

"Given its precarious position as one of many troubled legacy carriers, a strike could push it over the edge and out of business," he said.

Delta's deadlock with the pilots stands in contrast to rival Northwest Airlines, the No 5 US carrier, which filed for bankruptcy in September on the same day as Delta.

Northwest succeeded a month ago in striking a tentative deal with its pilots on $358 million in annual cost savings. The airline's 5,000 pilots are due to start voting on the new contract on Thursday.

First Published: Apr 05, 2006 15:09 IST