Delta Pilots Picket at Atlanta Terminal

Feb. 17, 2006
More than two dozen Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots brought the fight over their contract to their employer's doorstep.

More than two dozen Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots brought the fight over their contract to their employer's doorstep Friday as they held signs berating management for asking pilots to take more pay and benefit cuts while the company tries to get court approval for a hefty severance plan for officers.

The picketing at the passenger drop-off area outside Delta's terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the company's main hub, came after the pilots union and airline Thursday failed to agree on another round of concessions.

If negotiators for the pilots union and company can't reach a comprehensive deal on new concessions by March 1, a three-person panel would decide the company's request to reject the pilot contract so Delta can impose more than $300 million in cuts unilaterally.

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.

"The pilots are telling us they are extremely disappointed in Delta management and are tired of listening to management's demands," union spokesman John Culp said as rank-and-file members walked in a circle holding signs.

Some pilots held signs that said "career employees, turnstile management," and "it's not the cost of fuel, it's the lack of leadership." Another sign read: "Employee sacrifices should not enrich management."

Passengers at the world's busiest airport went about their business.

"This is informational picketing only and is not causing any disturbance to our service," Delta spokesman Bruce Hicks said.

On Thursday, the union warned that if the bankruptcy court approves the severance payouts, it could hurt efforts to agree on more pilot concessions. Delta is asking for what could amount to $14 million in severance for officers and directors who are fired as part of the company's reorganization.

The Air Line Pilots Association said the Atlanta-based airline's Feb. 8 bankruptcy court request for the officer severance plan would be bad for employee morale.

Delta has been seeking $325 million in new concessions from its 6,000 pilots. It recently offered to lower the request to $315 million, including an 18 percent wage cut. The pilots are currently offering about $115 million in new annual concessions. Culp said Friday the parties' positions did not change at Thursday's negotiation session. More talks are scheduled for next week, he said.

In December, the pilots agreed to an interim wage cut of 14 percent and additional cuts equal to another 1 percent pay reduction to give the sides more time to reach a comprehensive, permanent deal.

In 2004, the pilots agreed to $1 billion in concessions, including a 32.5 percent wage cut, as part of a deal that was to last five years.

Delta has said the severance proposal has the support of the official committee of unsecured creditors in the airline's bankruptcy case, and a company spokesman has called it "conservative by industry standards."

A judge has not yet ruled on Delta's severance plan request, which the pilots union is asking be denied.

In its proposal, Delta asked the bankruptcy court's permission to reinstate its pre-bankruptcy severance practices for 144 officers and director-level employees.

Under the program, severance pay of six to 12 months would be granted to certain employees whose jobs are terminated because of specified organizational or business changes. Employees who quit or are fired for cause would not receive severance.

If all 144 employees were terminated under the program, the cost to Delta would be $14.2 million, the company has said. CEO Gerald Grinstein and Chief Operating Officer James Whitehurst would not participate in the program.

The company said failure to implement the severance plan could increase unwanted attrition among upper-level employees.

Delta pilots who are furloughed get up to six months of pay depending on years of service, according the union, which says the company wants to reduce the furlough benefit to the equivalent of up to three months of pay.

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