Saturday, September 09, 2000

Delta pilots want contract

Money's an issue in yearlong talks

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Now that United Airlines has reached a tentative contract with its pilots, Delta is the next major airline in line to try to settle with the people in the cockpit.

[photo] Delta Air Lines pilots and their families hold an “It's about time” rally in a tent across from the airline's Atlanta headquarters Friday.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
        And judging from the turnout of about 1,200 pilots and their families Friday at a workers' rally at Delta Air Lines' corporate headquarters in Atlanta, nerves are starting to rub raw. The event marked one year since contract negotiations began.

        The lack of a new contract leaves some travelers wondering if Delta pilots will start refusing to work overtime, as United pilots did.

        The United pilots' actions, coupled with bad weather and jammed airways, had devastating results on the entire air industry this summer, the worst on record in terms of delays.

        Delta captain Doug Wolff said his fellow pilots are starting to consider it, although it might take several months before anything is done.

        “I'm hearing more and more talk on the line like — "Is it time to do it?' or "Are we fed up enough?'” said Mr. Wolff, 48, who lives in Anderson Township. He did not attend the rally.

        “The pilot group is definitely getting frustrated, and the rally shows that,” he said.

        Officials from the Delta branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Delta's 9,800 pilots, said they would never recommend such a company- wide action because it would be illegal. A federal judge fined American Airlines pilots $45 million last year for an unauthorized sick-out.

        The contract between the airline and its pilots came open for renewal May 2, but the pilots and Delta started negotiating earlier in hopes of reaching a settlement. Airline pilots' contracts are subject to the Railway Labor Act and, technically, do not expire.

        Negotiators have yet to address compensation or work scope issues.

        “We are in the process of rewriting the entire contract to streamline it, and that has taken longer than anticipated,” Delta spokeswoman Cindi Kurczewski said. “But we feel there has been significant progress, and this is not an unusual time to pass.”

        Here are the key issues:

        • Delta's pilots aren't the

        highest paid in the industry anymore.

        United pilots appear to have won a major victory in their tentative agreement reached Aug. 26, which boosts pilot pay by as much as 45 percent.

        Delta's senior Boeing 777 pilots gross an average of $248,000 annually, according to Air Inc., an Atlanta-based pilot recruiting firm. The new United agreement boosts the pay of pilots in the same category to at least as $251,220.

        “Yes, absolutely, we will try and surpass what the United pilots have done,” aid Karen McGuffey, spokeswoman for Delta's ALPA office. Delta officials would not comment on the United deal, but American Airlines pilots are considering turning down a tentative agreement to try to get a deal like United's.

        • The pilots call their 1996 contract “concessionary,” claiming they gave up as much as $1 billion in benefits and pay. They compare that with Delta's record growth — reported passenger miles are up 5.2 percent so far this year over last.

        “There is a lot of loyalty to this company and that's why we gave up so much last time,” Mr. Wolff said. “But we viewed that as an investment, and now it's time to be compensated for our sacrifice.”

        Ms. Kurczewski would not comment on the current contract.

        • The emerging role of Delta's regional jet company Comair, and what to do about that company now that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta.

        Delta's pilot contract limits the size of regional jets to 70 seats. Comair pilots are in their own negotiations, having been at an impasse with Delta for more than a year. The two sides entered federal mediation talks in July 1999, with negotiations starting in June 1998, when that contract became renewable.

        Comair pilots want Delta's scope clause removed, but Delta's outright purchase of the regional jet service in October 1999 complicated things.

        In July, the Comair pilots union asked to be merged with the Delta union so Comair pilots could get better job security and opportunity. Comair pilots also believe that only one contract would need to be negotiated, and pilots as a whole would be bargaining from a stronger position.

        ALPA's national executive board denied that request last month, however. And Delta pilots are seeking an expansion of the scope clause that would require the company to add a big-body route every time Comair adds a regional route, something Comair pilots vehemently oppose.

        “We realize that we're not going to make the same amount of money as Delta pilots flying 767s,” said J.C. Lawson, a Comair pilot and head of Comair's ALPA office that represents about 1,300 pilots. “Sure, we want a raise, seeing how much growth our segment of the industry has seen.”

        The current contract pays a senior Comair regional jet captain an average of $66,900 annually. Comair's reported passenger miles were up 21.2 percent through August compared to the same period last year.

        Mr. Lawson said an even bigger issue is work rules.

        He said Comair pilots are routinely asked to fly a 14-hour day, have eight hours of rest including travel and eating time, and then fly another 14-hour day the next day.

        “This is a safety issue and we're willing to strike over this,” said Mr. Lawson, 48, who lives in Villa Hills. “We want the same work rules they (Delta pilots) have.”

        Without progress soon on either the Delta or Comair front, Mr. Wolff predicts passengers could see a difference.

        “This is a great airline we have here and one where everyone loves to come to work,” he said. “If this wears on, that could stop.”

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