NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Pilots at Delta Air Lines, the nation's third-largest carrier, are set to conduct informational picketing at eight major airports Tuesday, despite the fact that the union says it is making progress towards a new deal.|
Tuesday is the first day that the current four-year pact can be changed, known as the amendable date under terms of the Railway Labor Act, which controls labor relations in the airline industry.
The union and Delta (DAL: Research, Estimates) had hoped to reach agreement on a new pact by Tuesday, but an agreement could be months or more away. Still, the union says that it is not seeking any kind of mediation or declaration of an impasse, which could start the clock towards a job action.
"We're still making progress in direct negotiations, although talks have slowed down," said Karen McGuffey, spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association. "These pickets are just to draw attention that we've lived under a concessionary agreement for four years, that times are now good and we're ready for a contract that recognizes our contribution's to the company's success."
The cities targeted for airport pickets by off-duty pilots include its Atlanta home, as well as New York's LaGuardia Airport, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Portland, Ore., Orlando, Fla., Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Cincinnati.
Going past the amendable date is not unusual in the airline industry. The average contract is reached about two years after the amendable date, according to Alesia Watson, spokeswoman for the company. She said the airline is not concerned it will see any impact on flights or customer bookings as a result of the pickets.
"Negotiations are going quite well," she said. "We've reached tentative agreement on 11 of the 28 issues."
But the most serious issues concerning wages and job security have yet to be brought to the table by either side. The union says that the average pay of a Delta pilot is about $90,000 a year. There are more than 9,000 pilots who belong to the union.
The pilots are the only union with significant representation at Delta, making it one of the least unionized passenger carriers. Flight attendants and mechanics there are non-union, unlike its major competitors. Analysts said they're not terribly concerned about talks at Delta at this point.
"This is part the jousting that goes on with these things," said Jim Higgins, analyst with Donaldson Lufkin and Jenrette. "The pilots will use every significant date to try to highlight the fact they're in disagreement with management."
Higgins said he has a buy recommendation on Delta, though he believes the stock will trade at lower multiples than much of the rest of the industry until the labor issue is settled. He said investors are also concerned about organizing effort by the Association of Flight Attendants at the carrier.
Despite increased fuel costs, Delta posted improved results in the first quarter. It earned $220 million, or $1.67 a diluted share, up from $214 million, or $1.42 a share, in the first quarter. Revenue rose to $4.0 billion from $3.5 billion in the year earlier period, although the passenger load factor, which measures the percentage of available seats sold, slipped to 69.02 percent from 69.87 percent a year earlier.
Shares of Delta gained 1-7/16 to 54-3/16 in trading Monday.