Nearly 15,000 pilots at Delta Airlines overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike this week, with 96% of members participating and 99% voting to strike. Delta pilots, members of the Air Line Pilots Association, began negotiations for their new contract over three years ago. Since then, pilots have steadfastly worked through a global pandemic and faced skyrocketing inflation — all without a pay raise since January 2019.
Pilots demand fair compensation and scheduling
Despite posting record quarterly revenues of $14 billion in September, Delta Airlines has refused to offer a wage proposal that “at a minimum, accounts for the impact of inflation on our paychecks,” stated Captain Jason Ambrosi, a Delta pilot and Chairman of the Delta Master Executive Council of the ALPA.
Fair scheduling is another key issue for pilots, who have been flying record amounts of overtime due to consistent understaffing. A Delta pilot told Liberation News, “I will tell you a fact: Delta pilots flew more overtime in the first six months of 2022 compared to the total amount three years before that [in 2018 and 2019 combined].”
Despite taking billions of dollars in government pandemic aid to prevent job losses, airlines like Delta offered voluntary early retirements and buyouts to workers, leaving them predictably understaffed when air travel increased in 2021.
This understaffing has worsened conditions for workers, Ambrosi explained, “Fatigue reports are at all-time highs and our quality of life is degraded by the scheduling ‘optimizer.’” Time and time again airlines have prioritized corporate profits over quality of life for airline workers, but the pilots are fighting back.
Transportation workers fight back
Across the transportation industry, workers continue to stand together and fight back against unfair compensation, understaffing and overwork. Flight attendants at Delta, currently the only major airline where flight attendants are not unionized, are fighting to form a union and address issues of inadequate pay and unsustainable scheduling. Railroad workers are also fighting back against scheduling policies that punish workers for taking sick days and require them to be “on call” even on days off.
Workers in the railroad and airline industries have recently demonstrated their readiness to strike, even with the legal roadblocks in the Railway Labor Act. With this law, the next step for the Delta pilots after their strike authorization will be for the National Mediation Board, the government regulator of labor disputes in the airline industry, to exhaust further mediation efforts to arbitrate the contract. After this, if the pilots’ union or Delta management decline arbitration, there would be a mandatory 30-day “cooling-off period,” which would temporarily delay the strike. Following this delay, if the contract remains unsettled, the Delta pilots could strike or management could engage in a lockout.
These processes slow down airline workers’ ability to escalate their campaign to a strike when management fails to negotiate fairly. However, the Delta pilots remain determined to win a contract. If Delta management continues to refuse to invest in the pilots who fly their planes while “posting record revenues for the third quarter,” the pilots have sent a clear message that they are ready to strike through their overwhelming strike authorization vote. After all possible avenues for negotiations have been exhausted, the Delta pilots are ready to take collective action and not fly the planes until their contract is won.
“The message we have sent to Delta management is unquestionable: We will strike if necessary,” Ambrosi stated. “We demand and have earned a contract commensurate with the highly unique skill sets we provide to bring safe, professional, industry-leading service year-after-year. If offered anything less, we are ready to strike.”
The working class prevails
As bosses escalate their attacks on the entire labor movement in the upcoming Supreme Court case Glacier v. Teamsters, which could eviscerate our fundamental right to strike, union organizing couldn’t be more important.
Workers are organizing and winning. Just last month, pilots at Alaska Airlines voted 99% to authorize a strike and emerged victorious with a contract that includes pay increases of up to 23%, improved scheduling and stronger job security.
Delta pilots are working under a contract they signed in 2016 and still haven’t seen an economic proposal from Delta that reflects inflation or the immense value of their labor — after all, the planes don’t fly themselves. Delta pilots are sick and tired of delays and excuses from management and this decisive vote shows that they are prepared to escalate to a strike if that’s what it will take to win the contract they deserve.
Featured image: Delta airlines Boeing 737-900 at San Diego International Airport. Wikimedia Commons.