Federal mediators have offered Delta Air Lines
and its pilots binding arbitration of their contract disputes after
18 months of negotiations failed to produce a new pact.
Delta quickly accepted the offer, while the pilots said they
would discuss it this week at meetings in Atlanta.
"Delta is accepting arbitration because we believe it is in the
best interest of the traveling public," said Robert Colman,
Delta's executive vice president of human resources. "We have a
superior offer on the table. Our offer recognizes the valuable
contribution that Delta pilots continue to make to our business."
If the pilots reject arbitration, as is likely, a 30-day
cooling-off period would be triggered. Negotiations could continue,
although pilots would be free to strike after 30 days, barring
The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents nearly 10,000
Delta pilots, planned informational pickets Friday at airports in
Atlanta, Cincinnati and Orlando, Fla.
ALPA leaders said they were disheartened that Delta, the nations
third-largest carrier, wasn't willing to offer more on some of
pilots' central demands.
"We are extremely disappointed that ... no agreement has been
reached with Delta management," said Charles Giambusso, chairman
of ALPAs Delta unit.
The major differences involve salary, retirement benefits, back
pay and a dual-wage system at Delta Express, the carrier's low-cost
unit based in Florida.
President Bush has said he will move to block airline strikes
this year to protect the traveling public and to try to further
shield an already fragile U.S. economy from the deleterious effects
of a major airline work stoppage.
Under the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline and railroad
labor contracts, Bush could appoint an emergency board to study the
situation and recommend a contract. After the 60-day period
outlined by such a board, the pilots could strike unless Congress
acts to mandate a contract.
The National Mediation Board made its offer late Thursday, after
a third day of talks in Washington.
Delta and ALPA jointly requested arbitration in a Feb. 28 letter
to the NMB.
On Monday, negotiators settled disagreements over travel
expenses, leaves of absence and a contract section covering
Delta shares closed down 69 cents at $38.22 Thursday on the New
York Stock Exchange, a 52-week low.