Delta Pilots Picket in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY_Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots brought their informational picket over stalled contract talks to Salt Lake City International Airport on Monday, warning that they may strike if an agreement isn't reached this spring.

About 50 pilots walked a picket line in front the Delta terminal and handed out pamphlets detailing their grievances.

The Atlanta-based airline filed for bankruptcy protection in September, and the company is seeking wage and benefits concessions from the pilots to help it become solvent.

Pilots said they have already conceded enough. In 2004, the pilots agree to $1 billion in concessions, including a 32.5 percent pay cut over five years. They also criticized an agreement last week by a New York bankruptcy judge that approved a severance package for as many as 144 directors and officers who will lose their jobs in reorganization.

"It sends a bad signal," said Capt. John D. Culp, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association. "We're disappointed that management would pause to consider their own job security while they're demanding significant reductions in job protections for Delta pilots." Culp, of Atlanta, has been a Delta pilot for 20 years.

Salt Lake City is one of three Delta hubs, with Cincinnati and Atlanta. The pilots picketed outside Delta's terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Feb. 17.

If negotiators for the pilots union and company can't reach a comprehensive deal on long-term concessions by Wednesday, a three-person panel would decide the company's request to reject the pilots contract so Delta can impose more than $300 million in cuts unilaterally. The arbitration panel would have 45 days to issue a ruling.

The pilots union has said it will strike if its contract is thrown out. The company has warned a strike would put the nation's third-largest carrier out of business.

A company official said Monday the picket has had no effect on business.

"This is an informational picket. It is not impacting our operations, and we don't expect that it will," said Bruce Hicks, Delta's spokesman for pilot negotiations.

Some passengers who came across the picket thought otherwise.

"If it looks like they're going to strike, I'd look at other options," said Ken Wzorek, 30, of Salt Lake City, who works as an art director for an advertising firm.

Luke Bucci, of Reno, flies every week for his job as an executive for a nutritional supplements company. He said the picket reinforced his recent decision about booking flights.

"It's made me switch to Southwest ... I'm all for the pilots," Bucci said. "They're flying the airplanes. They're in control up there. So, I think they should be paid well."

The average Delta pilot earns about $150,000 a year, Culp said. He would not divulge what the top-paid pilots earn, but said 40 percent of their pay comes from working overtime.

Capt. Ed Thiel, a Delta pilot for 20 years, said passengers who know about the union's complaint have been supportive. Thiel, of Salt Lake City, said he's paid less than pilots with similar experience, flying similar planes and routes, at other airlines. About 350 Delta pilots live in Utah.

Hicks said the company is committed to ironing out a contract deal soon. "We need a consensual agreement. We can't get out of bankruptcy without one," he said.


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