Delta Air Lines pilots are inching ever-so-slowly closer to going on strike, though it’s unlikely to actually happen.
99% of Delta pilots vote to authorize strike
Delta’s pilot union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), is in the process of negotiating a new contract for members. Delta pilots last received a pay raise in January 2019, and that’s based on a contract signed in 2016.
Admittedly the pandemic has taken a lot of bargaining power away from frontline employees, at least for most of 2020 and 2021. However, with things looking up for airlines, and with there being a general pilot shortage, unions are once again pushing harder for new contracts.
With Delta pilots not otherwise making much progress at the bargaining table, a strike-authorization ballot has just been conducted among pilots. This is the first time that such a vote has been conducted at the airline in over 15 years, since 2006.
That balloting has now finished, and the pilots sent a pretty clear message. Of all of Delta’s pilots, 96% cast votes, and 99% voted in favor of authorizing a strike. In other words, over 95% of all Delta pilots have voted to authorize a strike.
Here’s how the union describes its frustration with management:
Management’s questionable decisions have forced us to carry the heavy burden of ensuring the continued success of Delta’s industry-leading operation. This success would not be possible without the professionalism and hard work we deliver. We continue to fly record amounts of overtime, spending more time away from our families. Fatigue reports are at all-time highs and our quality of life is degraded by the scheduling “optimizer.” The barrage of corporate memos “thanking” us for our hard work devalues the significant positive impact we provide on the line every day. If we are sincerely valued members of the “Delta family,” management can thank us by bringing comprehensive, industry-leading proposals to the table and end these protracted negotiations.
One thing is clear: Delta has money to spend, reported a record windfall of revenue for the third quarter and has predicted a strong financial outlook. Further, in addition to wasting billions of dollars on pre-pandemic stock-buybacks, Delta continues to invest billions in joint ventures and millions in wholly-owned subsidiaries.
Does that mean Delta pilots are going on strike?
While Delta pilots have now voted in favor of a strike-authorization, that doesn’t mean a strike will be happening anytime soon. This vote simply means that Delta pilots can go on strike when they are legally permitted to do so.
Delta management and the union representing pilots will have to follow the procedures of the Railway Labor Act, which includes going to go to the National Mediation Board, in hopes of coming to a resolution. A strike would only (eventually) be permitted if that process fails. Even then it wouldn’t be imminent, as there would first be a 30-day cooling off period before a strike can occur.
The reality is that strikes don’t happen often at airlines in the United States, and we haven’t seen one in over a decade. Of course that’s not to say it couldn’t happen in the future. Here’s how the union describes the implications of this vote:
The results send an undeniable message to management: we are ready to go the distance, up to and including exercising our rights to self-help under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), to secure a contract that reflects the value we bring to Delta Air Lines. The RLA allows for unions to be released for self-help, and a strike is the ultimate action we could take after exhausting the required process. A strike is not an action we take lightly and one we hope to avoid, if possible. However, we will no longer accept further delays or excuses from management: we are willing and ready to strike.
Delta pilots overwhelmingly voted in favor of authorizing a strike, which is the latest move intended to bring an end to the labor dispute between management and the union. It’s highly unlikely that Delta pilots actually go on strike, but rather this vote is intended to express the displeasure of Delta pilots toward management and their current contract.
We saw a similar vote recently at Alaska Airlines — 96% of pilots participated in the ballot, and 99% voted in favor of a strike-authorization. Several months later, pilots ratified a new contract that all parties were happy with. I suspect we’ll see something similar at Delta. For that matter, American and United are in a similar position, and are (hopefully) nearing a new contract.
What do you make of this vote by Delta pilots?