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Delta Pilots Approve Contract Raising Pay by 34%

Date: March 1, 2023

Delta Pilots Approve Contract Raising Pay by 34%

The agreement could affect negotiations between pilots’ unions and other large airlines.

By Niraj Chokshi, New York Times

March 1, 2023Updated 1:58 p.m. ET

Pilots at Delta Air Lines have approved a new contract that will increase wages 34 percent by 2026 and includes improvements to scheduling, retirement and other benefits, raising the standard for contract negotiations underway at other large U.S. airlines.

Voting was conducted in February, and the results were announced on Wednesday, with 78 percent of pilots approving the contract, according to the union that represents them, the Delta Master Executive Council. The raises are valued at more than $7 billion over four years, the union said.

The agreement’s substantial raises are a reflection of a shortage of pilots in the United States and the strong recovery in demand for air travel. Airlines have been hiring thousands of pilots since bookings began picking up in 2021 after the pandemic gutted travel in early 2020. Many airlines offered early retirements and buyout packages to pilots and other employees during the height of the pandemic and before any vaccines became publicly available, thinking demand would recover slowly. They were left short staffed when business picked up much more quickly.

“This industry-leading contract is the direct result of the Delta pilots’ unity and resolve,” said Capt. Darren Hartmann, the chairman of the union. “Despite a two-year delay in negotiations due to Covid, we never lost sight of our goal to obtain significant across-the-board enhancements to our Pilot Working Agreement.”

The airline’s 15,000 pilots also overwhelmingly approved a separate agreement intended to protect the number of high-paying jobs for pilots who operate international flights. That agreement, approved by 90 percent of those who voted, will require Delta to add new international flying positions whenever it sells more flights operated by foreign airlines that it has partnerships with.

“From the beginning of the negotiations process, we set out to deliver the industry’s best pilot contract to the industry’s best pilots, one that keeps us as a top destination for U.S. aviation careers, and this contract is a reflection of that unwavering commitment,” John Laughter, Delta’s chief of operations, said in a statement.

The airline said it also planned to raise pay for many other workers starting in April. Unlike its peers, Delta’s work force, including flight attendants and baggage handlers, is mostly not unionized.

The new contract is widely expected to influence pilot negotiations at American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. All of those companies are contending with difficult talks and demands for much higher pay and other changes from union leaders and their members.

In the fall, pilots at United voted down a proposed contract. And the leaders of the union at American, the Allied Pilots Association, declined to send a tentative agreement to a membership vote.

American said on Wednesday that the new Delta contract could put more pressure on other airlines to offer pilots better terms.

“Delta’s pilot agreement profoundly changes the economics for the entire industry,” American said in a statement. “Our commitment to paying our team members well and competitively remains unchanged.”

The union at Southwest plans to ask its members to vote in May to authorize a strike if the group doesn’t reach a contract with the company; contract negotiations have been underway for three years. Under federal law, pilots can strike only after several conditions are met.

“It is not a decision we have taken lightly, but given the trajectory of our current leadership group, we have little faith in the stability and future of our airline,” Capt. Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said in a statement last month.

Captain Murray and other union leaders sharply criticized Southwest’s management after a meltdown of the company’s operations disrupted the travel plans of about two million people at the end of last year. The airline has said it was overwhelmed by bad weather and other challenges, but the Transportation Department is investigating whether Southwest knowingly sold more flights than it could handle.

In addition to the raises, the new Delta contract includes improvements in benefits like vacation accrual, per diem payments while traveling, scheduling and retirement contributions.

About 96 percent of Delta’s eligible pilots cast a ballot. The contract will take effect on Thursday and run through 2026.

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