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Pilot leaders OK Delta pact
May 3, 2001: 7:21 a.m. ET

Agreement goes to rank and file after getting union council's endorsement
By Staff Writer Chris Isidore
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Union leadership has recommended that pilots at Delta Air Lines approve a tentative labor agreement with the airline.

The 18-4 vote came late Wednesday at the end of a five-day meeting between the Air Line Pilots Association's (ALPA) master executive council (MEC) and the union's negotiating team that reached the agreement April 22.

Delta Air Line pilots, shown here on an informational picket line, are less likely to strike now that their union leadership voted 18-4 in favor of a tenative labor agreement with the nation's No. 3 airline. The pact now faces ratification by membership. (Source: ALPA)
Comments from pilots and published reports indicated that the meeting was sometimes contentious, with the meeting taking two days longer than originally scheduled. Some union leaders apparently wanted to go back to the negotiating table to seek further improvement or to vote down the deal.

More criticism is expected to be aired as the union's rank-and-file membership votes on the deal over the next 45 days. But the MEC vote remains an important step in avoiding a crippling strike at the nation's No. 3 airline.

Delta officials had no immediate comment on the union's vote. But Leo Mullin, the airline's CEO, said earlier Wednesday he is optimistic that both union leadership and its rank and file would vote in favor of the labor agreement.

Shares of Delta (DAL: Research, Estimates) gained $2.26 to $46 in trading Wednesday.

Deal has critics among pilots

The tentative deal came a week before the union's members were prepared to walk off the job, although there was concern among union officials that a strike would prompt intervention by President Bush or Congress that could have imposed terms of a contract without membership's approval.

One Delta pilot and former union official who intends to vote against the agreement, speaking on condition of anonymity, said before Wednesday's executive council endorsement that the contract needed strong approval from the MEC to have a chance at ratification.

"For guys on the fence, it'll tilt them towards voting in favor," he said. "Right now there's a lot of anger out there because we feel we came up short. It's hard to call a vote. If it passes the MEC by a tight margin, it tells me the vote itself by the membership would be difficult."

The four-year pact raises the pay of 9,800 pilots at Delta by between 24 and 34 percent over the life of the contract. It raises pay for more than 500 pilots at lower-cost carrier Delta Express by 63 percent, closing most but not all of the gap between Delta and Delta Express pilots flying the same basic equipment.

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The deal is called an industry-leading agreement -- but that claim has been questioned by the deal's union critics, who say that pay for some of the pilots will still trail counterparts flying similar equipment at United Airlines. It also gives Delta greater use of regional jets by its feeder airline subsidiaries than allowed at some other carriers.

Pilots in contentious talks elsewhere

One of those feeder airline subsidiaries, Comair Inc., has been shutdown since March 26 by a strike of more than 1,000 of its pilots, who are also represented by ALPA. Union and management negotiators continued an eighth day of talks Wednesday, their first negotiations since the beginning of the strike. But neither side would comment on whether any progress was made because of a news blackout imposed by federal mediators.

In other airline labor news, America West Airlines Holdings Corp. (AWA: Research, Estimates) said it was asking for federal mediation in its talks with ALPA, saying the union's demands are unrealistic.

"After more than a year of negotiations, we are disappointed that ALPA's proposal ignores the revenue-generating capabilities of America West and the impact on the job security of our 14,000 employees," said William Franke, CEO of the nation's No. 9 airline. "We are taking this unusual step because we are convinced it is the only way to reach an agreement." Franke said negotiations have been ongoing for a year.

The union criticized the Phoenix-based airline's decision.

"We are disappointed, but hardly surprised, that the company has as much as admitted that it has no interest in further direct negotiations," said Roger Cox, chairman of the union's MEC at America West. "Management has been largely unresponsive to our attempts to negotiate in earnest for a fair contract."

No work stoppage is imminent, because the federal mediators are just beginning their work.

Shares of America West gained 11 cents to $10.42 in trading Wednesday. graphic