Delta pilots picketing at JFK, airports nationwide in contract push ahead of July 4 holiday weekend

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Thursday, June 30, 2022
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Delta pilots are picketing at airports nationwide Thursday amid ongoing contract negotiations, including at JFK Airport in Queens.

JAMAICA, Queens (WABC) -- Delta pilots are picketing at airports nationwide Thursday amid ongoing contract negotiations and just ahead of the busy July 4th holiday, including at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens.

The pilot are picketing at Delta hub airports, which also include Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, MinneapolisSaint Paul International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport.

"Our contract was negotiated nearly six years ago, in 2016," pilot First Officer David Adler said. "It was a three-year contract, and so we're operating under the work rules and the pay rates that were decided in 2016."

Delta's 13,900 pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), the world's largest pilot union.

ALPA represents 65,000 pilots at 40 carriers in the U.S. and Canada.

Delta Air Lines said in a statement that off-duty pilots are participating in the pickets and said it will not disrupt service.

"This informational exercise by some of our off-duty pilots will not disrupt our operation for our customers," the airline said. "Earlier this year, Delta, ALPA, and a representative from the National Mediation Board restarted our mediated contract negotiations that had been paused for almost two years due to the pandemic. Our 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. We're also committed to making sure the contract language supports our ability to run a world-class operation, maintain a strong balance sheet, and invest in our business for our customers and employees alike."

The airline sent additional corporate staff to help passengers, and the CEO issued a personal apology to customers in an email while citing corrective measures they are taking like travel waivers during bad weather, earlier boarding and accelerated hiring.

The action comes ahead of the holiday weekend in which more than 5 million are expected to fly or otherwise travel.

"These delays, cancellations, long lines, airline headaches, and folks, for this Fourth of July period, they may be saying, 'I think I'm just going to go in the car this year,'" said Andrew Gross, with AAA.

Negotiations across the industry were put on hold because of the pandemic, and union groups at other big airlines are eyeing the recent contract reached by United Airlines employees as a potential guide in their own negotiations.

The ALPA approved a contract that would boost the pay of pilots at United by more than 14% over the next 18 months, potentially clearing the way for similar wage hikes throughout the industry.

The deal reflects the leverage currently held by unions, with the industry facing a pilot shortage that has resulted in cancellations worldwide and fewer flights.

United CEO Scott Kirby called the deal an industry-leading contract that would help both the union and the airline.

United, based in Chicago, is the first major U.S. airline to reach an agreement with its pilots.

Federal law creates a long and difficult process before airline workers can legally go on strike, but pilots at the big airlines have picketed airports and other locations to pressure management into bigger pay hikes.

Pilots have complained that thinly staffed airlines are asking them to work too many flights, with more pilots reporting fatigue.

The United contract, which the union valued at $1.3 billion over two years, would be retroactive to the start of 2022 and give three pay raises totaling more than 14.5% through the end of next year. The union said it includes better overtime and premium pay, a new retirement plan, a new 8-week paid maternity leave benefit and improved scheduling provisions.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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