Delta pilots vote to strike what then?
Salt Lake City area Delta Air Lines pilots led the pilot union in approving the latest vote to strike, if an arbitration panel grants Delta the right to void the pilots’ contracts, according to Delta’s local union head and Park City resident, Capt. Ed Thiel.
Thiel, who represents more than 600 local Delta pilots — 170 of whom reside in Park City, was not surprised by the reported 94.7 percent vote in favor of a strike, he said.
About 96.8 percent or 578 of Salt Lake’s pilots voted in favor, with only 19 Salt Lake’s pilots voting against the strike, Thiel reported.
The 5,930 Delta pilots company-wide voted over a 30-day period, using phones or computers to cast their ballots.
At the practice walkout this week, staged at the airline’s home base at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thiel said that more than 300 pilots participated. He noted that as they marched, some non-pilot Delta employees cheered them on to show their support.
Starting next week, Thiel will supervise local pilots as they clean out their lockers and remove all of their personal possessions from the airport in order to "basically strip it clean like we’re not coming back." Pilots may be locked out and unable to retrieve personal possessions in the event of a strike.
The company has said that it has offered to reduce its original concessions request of $325 million from pilots’ pay to $305 million a year. Pilots say they have offered $140 million.
"We’ve got a proposal on the table of pay cuts up to nine percent, changes in scheduling and sick leave and disability," Thiel said. "We’ve got a very comprehensive proposal on the table that gets them to what they have stated their pilot costs needs were."
An average 2005 earnings for a Delta pilot is more than $150,000, according to Delta pilots and Delta management, however that figure includes large amounts of overtime caused by nearly 900 pilots’ early retirements in 2005, Thiel said. The two sides do not agree on the exact amount.
The company has claimed a strike would put the entire company out of business.
Pilots, like management, do not want to strike, according to Thiel.
"Of course everybody is concerned. Nobody wants to strike. Pilots don’t want to strike, employees don’t want a strike, but that decision is up to [Delta’s] CEO," he said. "The important point is that the decision is in his hands, and the ugly part of it is that they’re abusing the power of the bankruptcy court, going well beyond what’s needed I think they’ve forever destroyed the relationship between management and pilots now."
The three-member panel of arbitrators has until April 15 to decide whether to void the pilots’ contract. Thiel says he will likely be standing by for media interviews and picketing on that date.
An Associated Press article stated that union leaders gave their chairman the right to order a strike anytime after April 17.
The company has says a strike would be illegal without going through a waiting period under the Railway Labor Act and would likely seek a court injunction to stop a walkout.
Thiel counters a strike would be legal should the arbitrators support the rejection of pilots’ contracts.
Robert Spendlove, chief economist manager of demographic and economic analysis for the Utah Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget maintains that if a strike does indeed put the company out of business, the impact would encompass more than just tourism.
Tourism is a driver of the Utah economy, and a strike would have an indirect effect on tourism, but the jobs that could potentially be lost if Delta goes out of business would have a greater impact.
"It’s more than just tourism-related jobs that would be affected [by the loss of the Delta company]," he explained. "That person that works for Delta, that job also supports the person who works at a restaurant or a person who works at the gas station Delta employees have accountants, attorneys, a teacher for their kids and those people also spend money in the state’s economy."
Each of the 5,000 Delta employees that reside in Utah support the equivalent of another job in the state, according to Spendlove. In a worst-case scenario, if the pilots’ strike were to shut down the airlines, he says that 10,000 jobs tied to Delta would be lost.
All told, given that the average Utah income amounts to $33,000 per year, Spendlove calculates the worst-case scenario creates a loss to the Utah economy of $330 million in one year.
Spendlove doubts that the world will see the worst-case scenario, however.
"No matter what, Delta will try to stay open — they won’t just roll up and die if these pilots go on strike. They’ll try and bring other pilots in who will pick up the slack," he predicts. " I’m sure there are a lot of pilots working at smaller regional airlines [willing to fly for Delta pilots]."
The Salt Lake City International Airport reports more than 100 non-stop flights leave Salt Lake daily.
In an AP article this week, company spokesman Bruce Hicks said that the company believed reaching a deal with pilots was achievable and that the company was, "committed to making every effort to do so."
He added in the AP article that customers "can continue to book [flights] with confidence."
Attempts to contact Hicks at his office were unsuccessful.
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