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Delta, Pilots Union Reach Tentative Pact

Airlines: After 19 months of talks, the new contract agreement ends the threat of a strike. Accord would boost salaries.

April 23, 2001|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Delta Air Lines Inc. and the union representing its 9,800 pilots reached a tentative agreement on a new contract Sunday, averting a possible strike and making Delta pilots the best paid in the U.S. airline industry, the National Mediation Board announced.

The five-year agreement must be ratified by Delta's pilots, a process the union said could take more than a month. The agreement assured air travelers that there would be no disruption in service for at least that period.

A spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Assn. said the union will not disrupt service while the members were voting on the contract. Without the agreement, the pilots would have been free to strike the airline at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

Delta and its pilots have been trying to agree on a new contract for 19 months.

"This agreement will make Delta pilots the best paid in the industry and will provide other industry-leading improvements," company Chairman Leo F. Mullin said in a statement. "Delta people in every job deserve our special gratitude for their consummate professionalism during the negotiating process."

The union said the contract included pay increases by 2005 of 24% to 34% for Delta pilots and 63% for pilots at Delta Express, the carrier's lower-cost unit. The union said the contract also includes back pay, retirement, job security and vacation improvements.

"We are pleased that we were able to achieve a collective agreement through the collective bargaining process and without government intervention," union spokesman Charles S. Giambusso said. "This is proof that if both parties are committed to the process, a solution beneficial to everyone can be reached."

A Delta spokesman said the company would not discuss details of the agreement Sunday.

"It's a huge contract, and obviously we haven't had time to discern everything that's been going on over the last five days," spokesman Russ Williams said.

Exact figures for Delta's new pilot salary levels were not immediately available, but a captain of Boeing 737-200s with 10 years' experience made $157,152 under the old contract, compared with $178,152 at United Airlines.

Union leaders are scheduled to meet Saturday to consider the contract. Members are expected to vote on it later.

"I think everybody assumed it would get worked out in the end," pilot Ken Brook said at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport. "I'm real happy. We didn't want to see a disruption for the traveling public."

Gregg Holm, a union spokesman and Delta pilot, said the contract would make up for concessions pilots made in 1996, when Delta was emerging from several years of financial losses.

"This gives the pilots pretty much what they were looking for," Holm said. "I think this is going to go a long way toward repairing the rift that was caused by the 1996 contract."

Delta Air Lines said last week it lost $122 million during the first quarter of 2001--its first loss in six years.

The airline--stung by lagging sales caused by the labor unrest--had lobbied for the White House to intervene in the dispute. The company hoped President Bush would appoint a presidential emergency board to study the disagreement.

Under the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline and railroad labor contracts, a presidential emergency board can be appointed to study the situation and recommend a contract. The appointment of a board would automatically put any job action on hold for 60 days, after which the pilots could strike unless Congress acts to mandate a contract.

Bush has vowed to block strikes at major airlines this year to help protect the economy and traveling public.

Pilots at Ohio-based Comair, a Delta regional carrier, have been on strike four weeks after federal mediators declined to seek White House intervention. The company and the union representing its pilots were expected to begin negotiations with federal mediators this week.

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