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Old 04-14-2006, 07:51 AM   #1  
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Default Union: Delta, Pilots Reach Tentative Deal

By HARRY R. WEBER, AP Business Writer
49 minutes ago

ATLANTA - Delta Air Lines Inc. and its pilots union reached a tentative agreement Friday on pay and benefit cuts that could avert a strike at the nation's third largest carrier and ease uncertainty among travelers over the busy Easter weekend.

No details of the agreement were released. The deal would be subject to ratification by the airline's 5,930 pilots.

The pilots union had threatened to strike if its contract was thrown out. Delta, which has been operating under bankruptcy protection since September, has said in court papers that a pilot strike would put it out of business.

An arbitration panel had until Saturday to reach a decision on Delta's request to throw out its pilot contract so it could impose up to $325 million in annual pay and benefit cuts. That decision is now on hold with the tentative agreement, but it could resurface if the rank-and-file pilots reject the agreement.

"I'm very pleased the parties have reached a tentative agreement," the panel chairman, Richard Bloch, told The Associated Press.

He declined to comment further, referring questions to the parties.

In a statement, Delta said the deal also is subject to bankruptcy court approval, but the airline believes passengers can book with confidence.

"We have worked hard together as a team to forge an agreement that is good for Delta and all of its constituents," said Delta's chief financial officer, Ed Bastian.

The pilot strike threat had unnerved Delta passengers, some of whom scrambled to make alternate travel plans over the busy Easter weekend. The threat also hurt bookings on the Atlanta-based airline.

Delta's mainline carrier operates 1,722 daily flights and had more than 118 million passengers last year.

In his memo to pilots, the chairman of the union's executive committee, Lee Moak, said the deal was reached early Friday morning. He said union leaders will meet in the next week to discuss the deal and determine whether to recommend it to the membership.

"We will not hurry," Moak said. "We will proceed in an unrushed, methodical manner."

Delta's pilots previously agreed to $1 billion in annual concessions, including a 32.5 percent wage cut, in a five-year deal in 2004. But Delta, which has imposed pay cuts on other employees, said it needs more from its pilots.

The company says the average earnings of pilots last year who worked the full year was more than $157,000. But the pilots union has said the figure was inflated by overtime and they have projected a significant decrease in average pilot earnings for 2006.

The negotiations between the company and the union picked up steam on Tuesday, when negotiators for both sides intensified talks at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York. Those talks continued through the night Thursday.

Delta pilot Keith Rosenkranz, who has been with the company 15 years and generally flies international routes to Europe and South America, said he's not sure how he will vote on the deal. He said he needs to see the details first.

"I was a little worried last night that my last landing in Rome was the last of my career," said Rosenkranz, who lives in Grapevine, Texas.

He said he's glad at least there is some sort of resolution, though union member ratification is still an unanswered question.

"I think the Delta pilots have always been willing to help the company in a time of need," Rosenkranz said. "We've proven that repeatedly over the years. But there does come a point when you have to stand up for your profession and the things that you negotiated in good faith, and if the company is not willing to recognize that then I'm not going to vote for something that continues to take."
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