Thursday, March 01, 2001

Delta wants arbitrated contract

If negotiations falter, pilots could be headed toward a strike

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Delta Air Lines on Wednesday said it had asked federal mediators to draw up a binding contract for its pilots, which could start the clock ticking toward a strike.

        Officials from Delta's 9,700-member branch of the Air Line Pilots Association would not comment Wednesday night on negotiations, nor would they say whether they had made a similar request, citing a communications blackout imposed by the National Mediation Board.

        Both sides in the 18-month-old talks said three months ago that they would ask for such a “proffer of arbitration,” at the end of a 90-day session overseen by the board, a period that ended Wednesday.

        Officials for Delta, whose second-largest hub is at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, would not comment further, also citing the blackout.

        If either side declines arbitration, the mediation board could release them to a 30-day cooling-off period. If that started today, the pilots legally could strike as soon as April 1. If a cooling off period does begin, pilots plan to begin informational picketing immediately.

        That decision would be up to the mediation board, however, which has overseen talks for the past 90 days. The board could decline to start a cooling-off period if negotiations are progressing.

        Glenn Engel, airline analyst for the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, said he expects the parties to be released.

        “Unfortunately, the only way the union leaders can say to their members they got them the best deal is to take the company to the brink,” Mr. Engel said. “It will probably go to the cooling-off period, and then we'll probably see a last-minute settlement.”

        Delta subsidiary Comair and its 1,700 pilots started such a cooling-off period this weekend, meaning the pilots could strike as soon as March 26. The pilots are to vote on the company's offer, but union leadership has not yet endorsed that proposal.


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