Major airlines’ pilot unions threaten to strike amid holiday season

Jared Maloney

Pilot unions from three major airlines are threatening to strike if their demands for more generous contracts are not met.

Spokespersons from the pilot unions for Delta Air Lines Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. all stated a willingness to strike as the holiday travel season approaches.

The unions are protesting against stagnant wages, reduced overtime and unsatisfactory work conditions

“We’ve worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic to get our customers safely to their destinations,” Delta pilot David Baach told ABC News.

Baach is a member of the Delta Master Executive Council, which represents 15,000 Delta pilots within the larger Air Line Pilot Association union.

“We continue to work hard to this day,” he added. “We will continue working hard. But we’re ready and willing to strike.”

Among the Delta pilots who are union members, 99% participated in the vote, and 96% voted to strike.

The United Master Executive Council represents 14,000 United pilots within ALPA, of which 10,000 cast a ballot in the vote. The results showed 96% of these voters in favor of striking.

Outside of Delta and United, 15,000 pilots for American represented by the Allied Pilots Association rejected initial pay raise offers from the corporation.

Pilots expressed frustration toward the insufficient wage hikes and benefits in recent years and the increase in overtime work. This comes as the airline companies face labor shortages following the COVID-19 pandemic and pilots alleging mismanagement added burden onto them.

“We are continuing to work longer days,” Baach added. “We are spending more time away from our families. The ball is in the company’s court.”

Delta last participated in contract negotiations with its pilot union in 2016. Renegotiation began later in April 2019.

The talks went into mediation in February 2020, but the process went on hold due to the pandemic. Talks resumed last January.

The unions threatened to strike after the airliners rejected their proposed wage increases. Delta pilots offered a 19% increase, United pilots offered a 15% increase and American pilots offered a 12% increase.

Delta pilots attributed their decision to the company’s record-breaking profits for the third quarter. Delta gained $14 billion in revenue.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian was confident that “there is no possibility” for pilots to “go on strike for Thanksgiving, Christmas or any time,” during an appearance on the “Today” show.

“There is no strike coming,” Bastian added, saying that if pilots did, it “would be against the law of the country.”

But the Delta pilots union has refuted Bastian, tweeting that “CEO Ed Bastian got it wrong” and “the law of the U.S. allows unions to strike.”

Bastian said that the two parties were in mediation with the National Mediation Board, reaffirming that there is still a long way to go before a strike is possible.

If no mediation is reached, each party must engage in a mandatory “cooling off” period of 30 days before a strike would be possible. This still would allow for a potential strike right around Christmas.

But Bastian does not believe this is likely.

“We’re actually a lot closer than people like to think, in terms of getting this deal done,” Bastian added.

United pilots last held a strike for 29 days in 1985. American pilots held a strike for four minutes in 1997, while unionized flight attendants started their strike at 11 big U.S. airports on Nov. 15.

Delta pilots last authorized a strike in 2006 but did not hold one.

“We are willing to go the distance to secure a contract that reflects the value we bring to Delta Air Lines as frontline leaders and long-term stakeholders,” Jason Ambrosi, a chairperson of the Delta MEC, said in a news release.