ATLANTA – Delta Air Lines pilots will soon finish voting on a new labor contract aimed at reversing the effects of the carrier's financial struggles and pay cuts a decade ago.
The deal includes raises of about 30 percent over four years and by many measures would make Delta pilots the highest paid in the U.S. industry. It comes as Atlanta-based Delta reports billions of dollars of profits.
"We looked at where Delta is, we see how much money they're making," pilots union chairman John Malone said during a presentation as members prepared to cast ballots in voting that runs until Thursday.
If they approve the deal, Delta's 13,000 pilots will get immediate raises of 18 percent when the contract takes effect, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016, with a lump-sum payment.
On top of that, they would get a 3 percent raise in 2017, followed by another 3 percent raise in 2018 and a 4 percent raise in 2019. The pilots in 2015 rejected an earlier tentative agreement with raises of more than 21 percent over three years.
If this deal passes muster, it will raise the pay bar for the industry. United Airlines pilots have a "me too" clause in their contract that stipulates they receive raises if Delta pilots get higher pay, and it's not unusual for unions to seek successively higher pay as different companies' contracts are negotiated in sequence.
Louis Smith, president of FAPA.aero, a career and financial planner for professional pilots, said the new Delta contract and its ripple effects mean "baggage fees aren't going away any time soon."
The Air Line Pilots Association union at Delta has been pushing for raises to make up for pay cuts of as much as 50 percent dating back to the post-9/11 financial turmoil that led to Delta's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing a decade ago.
Earlier this year while in federally mediated negotiations, pilot union members picketed at airports, at Delta's headquarters near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and at the company's annual shareholder meeting.
Smith said approval of the deal will mean no travel disruptions due to pilot strikes or labor actions, which are more common in Europe.
The pilots union leadership voted 15-4 to recommend the tentative agreement for approval.
"It's not perfect," Steve Uvena, the union negotiating committee chairman, told members. "It's not everything in every area that we want, but it's very good."
Delta called the deal an "industry-leading package of pay, benefits and work rules."
But not all Delta pilots are happy. Tim Caplinger, a Delta pilot who has been running an organizing campaign in an effort to establish an independent union to replace ALPA at Delta, said he voted 'no.'
"The contract gets us back to the pay that we were at a decade ago, but it falls short everywhere else," Caplinger said. "It fails to restore the value of our retirement, lost medical benefits, lost work rules," and adds other concessionary terms.
Malone told pilots during the Atlanta roadshow presentation that he believes Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian's management team took the deal because "it takes a tremendous amount of resources for them to conduct negotiations" with the union, and that can be a distraction from running the business.