Second strike averted amid threat of Bush intervention
WASHINGTON (AP) – The settlement reached by Delta Air Lines and its pilots’ union is the second agreement this month that averted a strike by a major airline under the threat of intervention by President Bush.
The tentative agreement Sunday would make Delta’s 9,800 pilots the highest-paid in the industry. The union had threatened to walk out at the end of the month.
Bush had promised to ”take the necessary steps” to prevent airline strikes, especially when labor talks at the nation’s largest carriers began to break down, and with the high-volume summer travel season approaching.
Despite union protests, Bush’s readiness to act does not appear to have hurt unions in their tentative contracts, labor experts said.
Under the Railway Labor Act, Bush can delay a strike by 60 days with a presidentially appointed emergency board that would recommend a settlement. But before Bush can officially intervene, federal mediators must first determine that a strike would significantly disrupt interstate commerce and deprive regions of essential transportation service.
Delta officials had been lobbying vigorously for White House intervention to avoid a shutdown. Bush blocked a strike by Northwest Airlines’ mechanics in March.
In the Delta dispute, Bush ”had urged the parties on all sides to work together constructively to reach an agreement and he is obviously very pleased they have done so,” said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.
Unions resent the interference. They say an emergency board favors the airlines, which aren’t likely to negotiate in good faith because they’re waiting to be rescued by the White House.
”It’s a perversion of what was intended under the Railway Labor Act, where presidential emergency boards were only supposed to be appointed in the most dire of circumstances,” said Rick Bank, the AFL-CIO’s director of the Center for Collective Bargaining. ”It’s just one more indication of Bush’s unapologetic pro-business, anti-labor stance.”
But intervention – or the threat of it – does not appear to have hurt unions in the tentative agreements, said Dennis Nolan, labor law professor at the University of South Carolina.
”All presidential intervention should do is delay things, and if negotiators are making progress, a little extra time might help them reach an agreement,” Nolan said.
Delta pilots would be the highest-paid in the industry under the five-year agreement. They had sought a deal to surpass the standard-setting contract United Air Lines and its pilots ratified last year, making ”United Plus” a slogan for the talks.
The proposed Delta contract provides:
– Wage and benefit hikes about 1 percent higher than United’s.
– Raises of between 24 percent and 34 percent, depending on the aircraft type.
– Retroactive pay to May 2, 2000.
– Limiting the use of regional jets to 50-seat planes. Delta could continue its planned purchase of 57 of the larger 70-seat regional jets. The union views the larger regional jets as a threat to jobs for its pilots.
It’s hard to say what impact Bush’s potential involvement had on negotiations, said Karen Miller, spokeswoman for Delta’s Air Line Pilots Association.
”This is the way the Railway Labor Act is supposed to work,” she said. ”It puts pressure on both parties as the 30-day cooling-off period expires to reach an agreement.”
Delta spokesman Russ Williams said the airline will not discuss contract details and did not have an estimate of the potential cost.
The agreement comes at a key time for Delta, which has been losing $3 million per day from a pilots’ strike at its Comair regional carrier.
Federal mediators have asked Comair and the Air Line Pilots Association to resume talks Wednesday in Washington. That would be the first face-to-face negotiations since the strike began nearly a month ago.
Bush’s intervention does not appear to have hurt Northwest mechanics despite the union’s initial protests. A new contract to be voted on by May 8 provides pay and benefits that union officials are calling ”industry leading.”
The Northwest agreement was reached earlier this month just before an emergency board was to announce its settlement recommendations. The agreement includes average raises of 24 percent and an average of $10,000 in back pay.
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