Delta Airlines pilots overwhelmingly vote ‘yes’ to strike

Nov 2, 2022, 3:42 PM
Delta Airlines pilots picket for a new contract at Terminal 4 in JFK International Airport on September 01, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Pilots have overwhelmingly voted ‘yes’ to strike in order to attain a new contract with Delta Airlines. Among the 96% of union members who participated in the vote, 99% voted for a strike.

“The Delta pilots are working under pay rates, contractual provisions, and benefits negotiated in 2016. Negotiations for a new agreement began in April 2019, nine months prior to the amendable date of December 2019,” the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said in a prepared statement. “Talks entered mediation in February 2020 and were paused in March 2020 for nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mediated talks resumed in January 2022.”

ALPA is the largest airline pilot union in the U.S., representing more than 65,000 pilots at 40 U.S. and Canadian airlines. Two weeks ago, the pilots at Alaska Airlines — represented by ALPA — approved a tentative agreement with the company on a three-year deal that contains improvements to job security, pay, scheduling flexibility, and other quality-of-life provisions.

82% of Alaska Airlines pilots present voted in favor of the new agreement.

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“As we went through the pandemic, we made a lot of sacrifices and worked really hard to make sure Delta made it through the pandemic and through the upswing of everyone coming back to travel,” said Laura Woods, a Delta pilot and an ALPA spokesperson. “Our pilots have put in a record amount of overtime on their time off away from their families and our company has been very slow at the negotiating table. So, they still haven’t come to us and brought us the contract that we have earned.”

Delta pilots and employees are seeking sizable salary increases and more flexible schedules, something American Airlines offered its pilots last week. The airline offered a 19% pay increase over two years, which was later rejected by the Allied Pilots Union on Wednesday.

Woods stated Delta Airlines saw a profit in Q3 and told KIRO Newsradio the company can certainly afford a new contract.

TSA checkpoint numbers indicate that more people are flying this season than in 2019, before the pandemic. However, this year’s summer numbers still trailed 2019 by 300,000 to 500,000 screenings on most days.

“It’s so much more than pay. It’s our quality of life, health insurance, and retirement. We have a lot of pilots who lost their retirement when the company went through bankruptcy and then a merger,” Woods said. “Those pilots really haven’t been brought back up to the point where they should have been in their retirement. We need job projection.”

The bankruptcy Woods referred to dates back to 2005 when Delta filed, citing rising fuel costs. The airline eventually emerged from bankruptcy a few years later after fending off a hostile takeover from US Airways.

Similar issues over retirement arose for Alaska Airlines, as many senior pilots chose to retire early to ensure junior pilots kept their jobs during the pandemic.

Due to the work demand, she tells us that they are experiencing a record amount of fatigue, which indicates pilots are working long, extended shifts.

But just because the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of a strike, it doesn’t mean it will happen. Under federal law (the Railway Labor Act of 1926), pilots cannot go on strike unless a federal government board declares an impasse in negotiations. After a 30-day review and another 30-day cool-off period, the union can go on strike or the carrier could initiate a lockout.

Nationwide railway strike threatens economy, local commuting

A few months ago, the Presidential Emergency Board, acting through the Railway Labor Act, had to intervene in negotiations between striking railway unions — the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Trainmen (BLET) and the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) — and railroad companies.

While the Biden administration says they want to be the most labor-friendly emergency board, that remains to be seen, according to Woods. However, she mentioned seeing a positive labor environment and is hopeful that mediation will bring about a new contract.

She also stated at the end of the 30-day period, the pilots will strike.

“Delta pilots are not on strike, so this authorization vote will not affect our operation for our customers,” a Delta spokesperson said in a prepared statement. “ALPA’s stated purpose for the vote is simply to gain leverage in our pilot contract negotiations, which continues to progress under the normal process set by the Railway Labor Act and in partnership with the National Mediation Board.

“Under that federal law, there are many steps remaining in the process and many opportunities left for collaborative negotiations before a strike is even allowed to be considered,” the statement continued. “Delta and ALPA have made significant progress in our negotiations and have only a few contract sections left to resolve. We are confident that the parties will reach an agreement that is fair and equitable, as we always have in past negotiations.”

Follow Micki Gamez on Twitter or email her here.

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Delta Airlines pilots overwhelmingly vote ‘yes’ to strike