In what might sound excessive to some, pilots from Delta Air Lines are demanding a 40% pay hike over the next three years, which the union says would bring the pilots’ salaries back to 2004 levels. Since that high water mark for wages, Delta filed for bankruptcy alongside Northwest Airlines, with whom Delta merged.
To try and keep carriers out of bankruptcy, and again during the bankruptcy process, the pilots took huge pay cuts, and even their pension benefits were reduced. The union, representing some 13,000 pilots, argues that Delta can afford to raise the wages since it posted record profits last year. Even if oil more than doubles in price, union leader John Malone insists that Delta executives are in a position to remain profitable.
Starting first officers at Delta earn an average of about $68,000 in base pay, while the most senior captains earn around $261,000. This is less than comparable pilots at United and American, as well as those at major cargo carriers such as FedEx and UPS. However, Delta has the best profits-sharing program in the industry, adding nearly $40,000 to every pilot’s pay last year. Tomorrow marks the next stage in the ongoing talks, when the union will be asking federal mediators to join in the negotiations.
Last spring the union and management had already reached an agreement on a new contract, which rank and file pilots overwhelmingly shut down. The problem, they said, was that a base pay raise was offset by a 22% cut in profit sharing, and it called for a change in work rules that were deemed “unfriendly” to pilots. Although management won’t directly comment on union’s wage proposal, they said that they’re prepared to reach an industry-leading agreement, although this would have to be “sustainable and market-based”. Delta pilots currently have an average base pay of $185,000, less than the average of $190,000 at Southwest, $205,000 at American and $209,000 at United.
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