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Wed, Apr 19, 2006

Delta's Pilots Prepare To Look At Deal Details

How "Tentative" Is It?

Last week, travelers rejoiced at the news the pilots union at Delta Air Lines had reached a tentative agreement with airline management on a new pay and benefits package, averting a possible holiday-weekend pilots strike. Just how "tentative" that deal may be, though, will now come up for review -- as union leaders meet in New Orleans Wednesday to decide whether to accept the deal or not.

Union officials have kept tight lips on the details of the agreement, and even disputed a report published in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend that claimed the deal will save Delta up to $290 million a year and would result in a 14 percent wage cut for pilots.

The pay cut package -- which, if true, would make permanent a temporary cut that has been in place since December -- also includes future wage increases for pilots based on Delta's financial good fortunes, the WSJ reported.

But, again... that's all just speculation... right?

"The numbers quoted ... are inaccurate," said Air Line Pilots Association spokesman Mike Pinho to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "ALPA will not publicly comment on the specifics of the tentative agreement prior to our governing body and our pilots having a chance to read the agreement, digest it and ask questions concerning the agreement."

Concessions in profit sharing and retirement benefits compensation are also believed to be part of the tentative agreement.

The union's Master Executive Council will decide whether to send the last-minute agreement -- reached less than 24 hours before a federal arbitration board was expected to rule on whether Delta could void its current contract with pilots -- to the union's 5,930 pilots for a ratification vote. That would probably take about a month.

Some industry analysts expect the deal -- no matter how much it may benefit pilots in the long run -- to be a hard sell among Delta's rank-and-file pilots, many of whom seemed eager to strike in the name of not giving Delta any further concessions than what they had already agreed to.

Delta isn't the only carrier that currently awaits word from its pilots on a concessionary pilot contract. Northwest Airlines -- which filed for Chapter 11 the same day as Delta, last September 14 -- is also in the midst of a ratification vote on a pilot contract. The outcome of that vote -- which is expected to take place before the Delta contract goes to vote -- could affect the outcome of the Delta deal, some experts suggest.

"If Northwest pilots ratify their tentative agreement, it will put more pressure on Delta pilots to ratify their deal as well," said airline consultant Michael J. Boyd. "Pilots pay close attention to what's going on with their peers throughout the industry. What happens at one carrier won't go unnoticed at the others."

Pilots at Northwest are scheduled to cast their electronic ballots on May 3.



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