Struggle to Save Benefits a Huge Task for Delta Retirees

Delta retirees say that the company is now a tough, pragmatic adversary, unlike the paternalistic airline that hired them decades ago.


Grinstein "basically does not choose to talk to me," said Cone, surmising it might be on lawyers' advice. In their last conversation months ago, she recalled, "He said he was going to have to do what he had to do, and I was going to have to do what I had to do."

Cone said she admires Delta for trying to preserve nonpilot pensions --- something neither US Airways nor United Airlines did in their bankruptcy cases. But she at times felt the company didn't do enough to support her group's lobbying efforts on the crucial federal legislation. She felt Delta snubbed the group when no retirees were invited to the bill-signing ceremony.

"A retiree ... should have been there," she said.

Now, Cone and Gray will move on to negotiations with the company over retiree health benefits. Delta has said it wants to raise premiums, which now are as low as zero, depending on when a worker retired and which package they took. Cone said Delta also wants to remove most retirees over age 65 from its self-insured medical plan, instead offering coverage by an outside firm at retiree expense.

That issue could well go to court later this year or early next. Changes in health benefits aren't unusual in bankruptcy restructurings, but that doesn't make them easier to take for Cone and Gray.

Delta "is being guided by lawyers that are used to reading contracts," Cone said. "And I think what we had with Delta was a social contract, and I think that it's not worth a dime in bankruptcy court."



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