Delta pilots union turns up heat in contract talks

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June 24, 2016 Atlanta: Delta pilots conduct informational picketing at the south terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Friday morning. Delta pilots are raising awareness and urgency with Delta management for higher pay in negotiations for a new labor contract. "We are almost six months overdue for a new labor contract," said Master Executive Council (MEC) Chairman of Delta Airlines, John Malone, who has worked at Delta Airlines for 28 years. Delta pilots around the country also participated on Friday morning. EMILY JENKINS/ EJENKINS@AJC.COM

The pilots union at Delta Air Lines has taken another step to ratchet up pressure in labor negotiations, announcing the opening of a center in Atlanta to organize pilot picketing and other activities “in the event a strike becomes necessary.”

That does not mean a strike is planned. But the move is part of the union’s push for a new contract in talks with the company under federal mediation.

Delta in a written statement said it “is committed to reaching a timely agreement that is market-based, sustainable and that also ensures Delta pilots have industry-leading pay, benefits and work rules.”

According to Delta pilots union chairman John Malone, the union is working to reach a deal on a new contract this summer, but “we are preparing for any eventuality allowed to us” under federal labor law governing airlines, “including efforts from informational picketing to a legal strike.”

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Delta pilots conduct informational picketing at Hartsfield-Jackson on June 24, 2016. EMILY JENKINS/ EJENKINS@AJC.COM

It’s the second round of contract talks, after a previous deal was rejected by pilots in a vote last year.

The pilot contract negotiations fall under the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline labor relations. The pilots union would have to clear a number of hurdles to be able to strike.

“Our negotiators are working diligently to obtain the contract that we deserve,” Malone wrote in a letter to pilots.

The union’s announcement of the opening of an Atlanta “strike center” comes after its parent organization, Air Line Pilots Association International, recently granted its request for $5 million to help fund a strike and “strike-related efforts.”

In letter to pilots, Malone wrote last month that the pace of negotiations had accelerated, and earlier this month wrote that the union’s negotiating committee “reported good progress at the table,” having completed several sections of the contract.

But he also wrote: “I am planning for all contingencies: for a deal or no deal.”

The pilots union in its opening proposal sought a nearly 40 percent compounded pay raise over a three year period. On Tuesday, Malone wrote that reactions from pilots to the company’s pay proposal “indicate overwhelming disappointment with this offer,” while adding that he sees it as a starting point in talks on pay.

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Delta pilots union seeks nearly 40 percent raise over three years

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