Mar. 1 -- A Delta Air Lines retiree group is telling management and pilots they should ink a new long-term pay agreement before their dispute seriously hurts the carrier's recovery effort.
The two sides face a deadline at 5 p.m. today to reach a deal or turn the matter over to a three-person panel, which will decide in coming weeks whether Delta can void its pilot contract and impose terms. Union leaders have vowed to call a strike if that happens.
"It is very easy for your negotiations to turn into a form of brinksmanship where one miscalculation or rigidity can lead to a disaster for us all," wrote Cathy Cone, head of a bankruptcy-court-appointed committee that represents Delta's non-pilot retirees, in a recent open letter to Delta managers and pilot union leaders.
Delta and the union continued talks Tuesday on a new deal, which would replace a temporary pay cut pact reached in December. It was unclear whether negotiators will meet again today.
Cone said Delta is losing revenue as customers book on other carriers because of the potential threat of a strike. A Delta spokesman denied that, although he conceded bookings were hurt during talks before the December deal.
"This is a particularly fragile time for Delta financially, as the next three months are the projected tightest cash flow squeeze on the airline," Cone wrote.
Delta wants more than $300 million in annual concessions; pilots had offered a package worth about $115 million. Cone urged both sides to "use every bit of creativity, persuasiveness, energy and sensitivity" to avert a potential strike.
"We are trying to reach a consensual agreement that meets the needs of the pilots," said ALPA spokesman Mike Pinho.
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Delta retirees say that the company is now a tough, pragmatic adversary, unlike the paternalistic airline that hired them decades ago.
In 2002, while at Delta, she helped the airline during its creation of controversial bankruptcy-proof pension trusts for about three dozen executives.
In the next few weeks, Delta will propose raising the portion of health care premiums that retirees pay.
Delta is considering if it will also seek termination of a larger plan covering ground employees and flight attendants.