ATLANTA (AP) -- Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots, angered by management's effort to throw out their contract and impose deep pay cuts, voted by a wide margin to authorize a strike, union leaders said Tuesday.
The 94.7 percent vote in favor of authorizing a strike gives union leaders the authority to set a strike date. They didn't set a date immediately and gave no indication when they might act.
The results were announced in a memo to pilots from the chairman of the union's executive committee, Lee Moak.
An arbitration panel must decide by April 15 whether to void the pilots contract. The union has said it will strike if its contract is rejected.
The nation's third largest carrier, which is operating under bankruptcy protection, has said a strike would put it out of business.
"The results of this ballot will send the strongest message yet that if Delta's senior executives are successful in their misguided attempt to reject our contract, we will strike," Moak wrote in his memo to pilots.
He added, "All too often over the past months, management has attempted to mischaracterize the defense of our contract as posturing, gamesmanship and, most recently, saber-rattling. They are wrong."
Company spokesman Bruce Hicks said the vote will not affect Delta service.
"Together with our pilots and all of our employees we remain focused on our No. 1 priority, which is taking good care of our customers," Hicks said.
He added that the company is committed to seeking a consensual deal with its pilots.
Atlanta-based Delta sought approval to reject its contract with its 5,930 pilots so it can impose up to $325 million in long-term pay and benefit cuts, which would include a wage reduction of at least 18 percent.
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 after filing for bankruptcy protection in September.
So far, there has been little movement toward a long-term deal to replace an interim deal reached in December, though both sides have met at least twice since arbitration hearings in Washington ended March 23.