Jun 30, 2022 - Economy

Delta pilots launch nationwide protest over union contract

Illustration of an airplane on a runway shaped like a "no" symbol.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Members of Delta's pilot union will be picketing outside airports across the country ahead of the holiday weekend to pressure the company to speed up its contract negotiations.

Why it matters: The union estimates that in an effort to meet the massive post-pandemic air travel demand, pilots are on track to have logged more overtime in the past few months than they did in all of 2018 and 2019 combined.

Driving the news: This is the first systemwide picket pilots have organized in a decade. At Delta hubs around the country — including Atlanta, New York, Detroit, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Seattle — pilots plan to be posted outside airport buildings Thursday with signs and leaflets.

Of note: Because the pilots — members of the Delta unit of the Air Line Pilots Association — are picketing on their days off, service will not be affected.

The other side: A Delta spokesperson told Axios in a statement the company's "goal remains to continue providing Delta pilots with an industry-leading overall contract with the best compensation based on pay, retirement, work rules, and profit-sharing."

  • They're also, he said, committed to making sure they can "maintain a strong balance sheet and invest in our business for our customers and employees alike."

The big picture: The staffing shortages plaguing airlines and travelers recently are projected to last into 2023, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

  • Delta already cut its summer schedule to alleviate pressure on its employees.

Catch up quick: Delta pilots are working under a contract that was signed in 2016. The union paused its regular negotiations at the start of the pandemic but resumed discussions in January.

  • However, First Officer Reed Donoghue, a Delta pilot and spokesperson for the union, told Axios Atlanta that since then they've "seen little meaningful movement from Delta at the table."
  • American Airlines pilots have picketed for similar reasons this year.

The bottom line: Donoghue said they're pushing Delta to adjust its schedule based on the staff it has available rather than rely on overtime. "In order for them to do more flying, they're going to need to hire more pilots," he said. "In order to attract more pilots, it really helps to have a comprehensive, industry-leading contract."

Zoom in: Besides a pay raise, Donoghue said, pilots are looking for job protections, quality of life improvements to their schedules as well as benefit enhancements.

Flashback: Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed during the Juneteenth and Father's Day holiday weekend, Axios' Rebecca Falconer reports. Friday, June 17 was the busiest air travel day of the year, according to the TSA.

What we're watching: For Independence Day weekend, Delta issued a systemwide travel waiver for travelers to rebook at no charge.

  • AAA estimates more than 3.5 million Americans are expected to fly— the lowest share of air travel for the holiday since 2011.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to say Delta pilots are working under a contract that was signed in 2016 (not that it expired in 2016).

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