Facing no imminent breakthrough in their contract
negotiations, Delta and its pilots asked federal mediators to
release them from contract talks.
Negotiators from the National Mediation Board did not
immediately act upon the request, which would push the nation's
third-biggest carrier a step closer to a possible strike.
The board is not compelled to accept the request, which Delta
and the Air Line Pilots Association made late Wednesday in a joint
letter, and could order both sides to keep talking.
Delta and its 9,800 pilots had agreed to ask the board for
binding arbitration if the negotiations had not produced an
agreement by Thursday.
If the board does offer arbitration, either Delta or the union
is expected to reject it, leading to a 30-day "cooling-off"
period. A strike could begin April 1, although the mediation board
could order more negotiations throughout March.
A board spokesman declined to discuss specifics of the talks,
citing a news "blackout" the agency has requested both parties
The negotiations began in September 1999 with pilots seeking
massive contract gains after several years of record company
profits. Pilots contend that concessions they offered in their 1996
contract helped Delta restore its finances and reputation with the
The talks have intensified in recent months, although both sides
concede they remain divided on issues such as salary, retirement
benefits, flying limits on regional jets, retroactive pay and a
lower wage system at Delta's low-cost affiliate, Delta Express.
The pilots have authorized ALPA to call a strike and have begun
organizing strike centers in larger cities, but some union
officials have said privately they expect President Bush might
enter the fray to avoid travel disruptions.
The Delta talks are occurring as United and Northwest airlines
are haggling with their mechanics over a new contract and American
is negotiating a new deal with its flight attendants.