Delta Air Lines pilots voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if contract talks with the nation's third-largest carrier fail, their union said Monday.
Delta and its pilots have been negotiating a new contract for nearly 18 months, with the pilots increasingly frustrated by the pace of the talks.
The company and union have agreed to negotiate until Feb. 28, when they will ask the National Mediation Board to arbitrate any remaining disputes. If either side then rejected arbitration, which is considered likely, they would enter a 30-day cooling-off period.
The pilots then could strike April 1, barring intervention by President Bush, who expressed concern last week about possible work stoppages at Delta, Northwest, United and American and said he would "explore all options."
The Air Line Pilots Association said Monday that a record 99 percent of Delta's 9,800 pilots returned strike-authorization ballots by Friday's deadline, and 97 percent of them voted for a walkout.
Delta officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.
ALPA said compensation, job security, retirement benefits and a dual-wage system at Delta's low-cost unit, Delta Express, remain the major sticking points in the talks.
Bush said Friday he would create a presidential emergency board to force Northwest mechanics to continue working for at least 60 days if no agreement is reached with that carrier. The country's biggest carrier, United, also is in contract talks with its mechanics, and American Airlines is negotiating with flight attendants.