Negotiators for Delta, Union Hold Talks

Negotiators for Delta Air Lines Inc. and its pilots union met at a New York hotel Tuesday trying to hammer out an agreement over pay and benefit cuts that would prevent a strike that would doom the nation's third-largest carrier.

Spokesmen for the company and the union declined to comment about the closed-door talks, which were said to be intensifying as they continued into the early evening.

The talks were expected to continue into Wednesday, the same day hundreds of Delta pilots planned to march outside the company's headquarters to protest the No. 3 U.S. airline's effort to void the pilot contract and impose up to $325 million in long-term pay and benefit cuts.

Any deal the sides were able to reach would have to be ratified by the airline's 5,930 pilots.

Last week, the pilots authorized their union leader to call a strike at anytime after Monday. An arbitration panel has until Saturday to decide on the company's contract rejection request, but that deadline could be extended if the sides were close to an agreement.

The pilots union has said it will strike if its contract is thrown out by the panel. Atlanta-based Delta, which is operating under bankruptcy protection, has said a strike would put it out of business.

The cuts the airline is seeking would include a wage reduction of at least 18 percent. The company has offered to reduce its concessions request to $305 million a year if the pilots reach a consensual deal, while the pilots say they have offered $140 million. It's not clear how, or if, those positions had changed Tuesday.

Delta's pilots previously agreed to $1 billion in annual concessions, including a 32.5 percent wage cut, in a five-year deal in 2004. But Delta, which has imposed pay cuts on other employees, said it needs more from its pilots after filing for bankruptcy protection in September.

The company says the average earnings of pilots last year who worked the full year was more than $157,000. The union says line pilots made on average $151,000 last year. Both the union figure and company figure exclude management pilots, though the union figure also excludes instructor pilots and certain other pilots.


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