ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines pilots will soon begin voting on a new contract now that their union’s leadership has endorsed a tentative agreement that could end the threat of a strike at the nation’s third-largest carrier.
The decision late Wednesday by Delta’s master executive council, a division of the Air Line Pilots Association, sends the contract to Delta’s 9,800 pilots.
“I believe this contract recognizes the important part our pilots play in the operations of our corporation and the unique skills, experience and expertise we bring to the cockpit,” said Charles Giambusso, chairman of ALPA’s Delta unit.
The pilots agreed to the tentative proposal April 22, warding off a strike a week before they had threatened to leave their cockpits.
A strike by Delta pilots could severely impact U.S. aviation at a time when air traffic is already at record levels of congestion.
The union and Delta have been working on a contract for more than a year and a half.
The deal calls for raises of 24 percent to 34 percent for Delta pilots between now and 2005, making them the highest-paid in the industry. It exceeds the current most lucrative contract at United Airlines.
Delta’s pilots will vote on the contract from May 22 through June 20.
“We are hopeful that the contract will be ratified in the coming weeks so that all of us at Delta can focus more fully on our customers,” Delta spokesman Russ Williams said.
Despite the large raise offers, some pilots have harshly criticized the proposed contract because of its terms regarding retirement benefits, crew scheduling and the continuation of a lower-wage pay system at Delta Express.
Also, some pilots believe the contract will allow Delta to expand the amount of flying it does with Express, a lower-cost unit based in Orlando, Fla., at the expense of the main airline.
Delta officials maintain they need the separate wage structure to compete with other discount carriers.
The union now will dispatch leaders to the airline’s eight largest pilot bases to answer questions and try to build support for the contract.
Union spokesman Andy Deane, a Delta 767 pilot, said some pilots do not yet understand what is in the contract or how it differs from the previous deal in key areas.
The council meeting started Saturday and had been planned for only three days.
ALPA officials said the protracted meeting was necessary to analyze and understand each provision of the lengthy contract.
“The fact that it took five days, I think, tells you that the pilots wanted to go through this thing with a fine-tooth comb,” ALPA spokesman Gregg Holm said.
On the Net:
Delta Air Lines: http://www.delta.com
ALPA Delta unit: http://www.dalpa.com