Delta pilots picket outside airline's terminal over pay cut talks

Friday, February 17th 2006, 12:10 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ More than two dozen Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots held signs Friday berating management for asking pilots to take deep concessions while trying to get court approval for a hefty severance plan for officers.

The picketing at the passenger drop-off area outside Delta's terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport came after the pilots union and company Thursday failed to agree on a second round of pay and benefit cuts.

``The pilots are telling us they are extremely disappointed in Delta management and are tired of listening to management's demands,'' union spokesman John Culp said as rank-and-file members walked in a circle holding signs.

Some pilots held signs that said ``career employees, turnstile management,'' and ``it's not the cost of fuel, it's the lack of leadership.''

``This is informational picketing only and is not causing any disturbance to our service,'' Delta spokesman Bruce Hicks said.

On Thursday, the union warned that if the court approves the severance payouts, it could hurt efforts to agree on more pilot concessions. Delta is asking for what could amount to $14 million in severance for officers and directors who are fired as part of the company's reorganization.

The Air Line Pilots Association said the Atlanta-based airline's Feb. 8 bankruptcy court request for the severance plan would be bad for employee morale and would threaten the company's reorganization process if approved.

Delta, the nation's third-largest airline, has been seeking $325 million in new concessions from its 6,000 pilots. It recently offered to lower the request to $315 million. The pilots are currently offering about $115 million in new annual concessions. Culp said Friday the table positions did not change at Thursday's negotiation session.

The cuts would be on top of $1 billion in concessions the pilots agreed to in a five-year deal reached in 2004.

A Delta spokesman has called the severance proposal ``conservative by industry standards.'' On Thursday the company issued a statement saying the proposal has the support of the official committee of unsecured creditors in the airline's bankruptcy case.

A judge has not yet ruled on Delta's severance plan request, which the pilots union is asking be denied.

In its proposal, Delta asked the bankruptcy court's permission to reinstate its pre-bankruptcy severance practices for 144 officers and director-level employees.

The company said that under the program, severance pay of six to 12 months would be granted to certain employees whose jobs are terminated because of specified organizational or business changes. Employees who quit or are fired for cause would not receive severance.

If all 144 employees were terminated under the program, the cost to Delta would be $14.2 million, the company has said. CEO Gerald Grinstein and Chief Operating Officer James Whitehurst would not participate in the program.

The company said failure to implement the severance plan could increase unwanted attrition among upper-level employees.

Meanwhile, if negotiators for the pilots union and company can't reach a comprehensive deal on new concessions by March 1, a three-person arbitration panel would decide the company's request to reject the pilot contract so Delta can impose the cuts it is seeking unilaterally.

The pilots union has said it will strike if the contract is thrown out.