Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots may consider a vote to strike if the bankrupt airline's managers impose changes on their contract, a pilots union spokesman said Wednesday.
The airline has asked a bankruptcy judge to let it scrap its current contract with pilots, as part of its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy. Delta, besieged by rising fuel costs and stiffer competition, filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 14.
"It is our contention that if they start imposing their terms we will start defending the contract," Air Lines Pilot Association spokesman John Culp told The Associated Press. "If we hit Dec. 16 and they stick to their plan to start imposing conditions ... we'll consider any and all legal options."
Delta spokeswoman Chris Kelly said the airline would consider extending the Dec. 16 deadline "if we felt a consensual agreement could be reached."
"Our strong preference is to negotiate in good faith and reach a consensual agreement," she said.
Wednesday was the ninth day of hearings focused on the airline's motion to dismiss its current contract with its 6,000 pilots. So far, the hearings have focused on testimony from Delta executives and a Wall Street investment banker advising the airline.
Bankruptcy law provides that a debtor can impose changes to a contract 30 days after making a request in court. Delta made such a request for contract changes in mid-November.
The Delta pilot union's master executive council - 13 union representatives throughout the country - is slated to meet on Thursday. Culp said the union pilot representatives may consider giving the union's chairman the ability to call for a strike ballot. It could take weeks from the launch of a ballot to a strike vote tally, said Culp.
While Delta has said such a strike would be illegal and a violation of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), Culp said ALPA believes it has the right to strike if the pilots contract is rejected. Delta's chief financial officer Edward Bastian has said a strike by pilots would be "devastating" to the carrier.
Culp said that if management starts imposing terms, many pilots would quit. "There are a lot of pilots actively looking for work elsewhere. If management starts imposing their terms, they will have a problem operating the airline," he said.
Culp would not state how many of the 6,000 ALPA pilots are seeking employment at other airlines. "This is not a union directed action. These pilots are making an individual career decision," he said.
Delta's Kelly declined to comment on speculation that the pilots are looking elsewhere for jobs.
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Leaders of Delta Air Lines Inc.'s pilots union met behind closed doors Thursday to consider whether to ask their members for the right to strike if the struggling carrier imposes lower wages.
Delta Air Lines and its pilots have agreed to a handful of cost-cutting items that would save about $17 million annually, but they remain far apart on big-ticket items.
Delta Air Lines Inc. says the decision by its pilots' union to ask rank-and-file members to authorize a strike doesn't change the company's position on its need for $325 million in concessions.