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Federal Mediators Offer Arbitration
In Delta Contract Dispute

By Justin Bachman   Associated Press
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ATLANTA — 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 presidential intervention.

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 miscellaneous items.

Delta shares closed down 69 cents at $38.22 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange, a 52-week low.

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