Delta Air Lines pilots have overwhelmingly voted to authorize union leadership to strike, should negotiations stall long enough for such an action to become legal under federal law.
The vote, however, doesn’t mean a strike is eminent.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said that 99% voted in support of the authorization and that 96% of its nearly 15,000 union members within Delta participated in the vote.
The vote came nearly three years after the labor contract between Delta management and its pilots became amendable. Talks entered mediation in February 2020 and were paused in March 2020 for nearly two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mediated talks resumed in January 2022.
ALPA said that the vote sends a message that Delta pilots are willing to strike, if necessary.
“Delta has rebounded from the pandemic and is poised to be stronger than ever, posting record revenues for the third quarter,” Delta Master Executive Council chair Jason Ambrosi said. “Meanwhile, our negotiations have dragged on for too long.”
He added that ALPA’s goal is to reach an agreement, rather than to strike.
What strike authorization means
Under the Railway Labor Act, which regulates job actions in the airline industry, Delta pilots cannot strike until the National Mediation Board decides that additional mediation would not be effective. The board would then offer the parties an opportunity to go to arbitration. If either the pilots or Delta management were to reject arbitration, the parties would be required to wait 30 days before initiating a strike or lockout.
In a statement, Delta emphasized that its pilots are not on strike. ALPA’s stated purpose of the authorization vote, Delta said, was to gain leverage in the contract negotiations.
“Delta and ALPA have made significant progress in our negotiations and have only a few contract sections left to resolve,” the carrier said. “We are confident that the parties will reach an agreement that is fair and equitable, as we always have in past negotiations.”
Within the U.S. airline industry, strike authorization votes often don’t lead to actual strikes. In May, Alaska Airlines pilots authorized a strike. But in October, Alaska’s pilots ratified an agreement with management without acting on the authorization.
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