Delta pilots picket at Metro over contract dispute

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Romulus — Pilots for Delta Air Lines staged a picket Friday to bring attention to a contract dispute that has left them without a contract for five months.

The demonstration by 100 pilots at Detroit Metropolitan Airport — in shifts of 20 at a time to comply with airport rules — was part of picketing by 1,400 members of the Air Line Pilots Association in eight cities, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

The pilots, who marched silently at the international departures terminal of the McNamara terminal, held signs that read “First Class Airlines, First Class Contract” and “Investment Grade Airline, Investment Grade Pilots.”

The airlines and its pilots have been in negotiation for 15 months.

“Delta management has acknowledged that Delta pilots should be compensated at the highest levels in our industry. But that acknowledgment has not made its way to the negotiating table,” said Delta Capt. Mark McClain, chairman of the strategic preparedness and strike committee.

“The investing public has been rewarded with expanded dividends, management compensation is up, the other noncontract employees have all received pay raises, so we’re the only ones sitting around the table that have not been given our fair share of what we feel we earned long ago when we restructured the airline.”

McClain said a contract offered by Delta was rejected last year because it reduced profit sharing that pilots received as part of the airline’s bankruptcy. The Atlanta-based Delta filed for Chapter 11 in 2005.

Delta and Northwest Airlines merged in 2008 to form the largest commercial airline in the world.

According to the airline, Friday’s picketing had no impact on its operations. Delta also said progress is being made in negotiations.

“But while we’re making steady progress, there are still tough issues to resolve in order to reach an agreement,” said Capt. Steve Dickson, senior vice president of flight operations, in his weekly update to Delta pilots. “Our sleeves are rolled up, and I’m encouraged that we will be able to bring this process to a successful conclusion.”

McClain said the main sticking points include compensation that “doesn’t recognize the value that Delta pilots bring.”

Delta, he said, made $1.56 billion in the first quarter of this year, nearly triple that of 2015, according to the Air Lines Pilots Association.

McClain declined to say what an average pilot makes for Delta but said pilots took between a 42 and 43 percent hit in salary and loss of pensions during bankruptcy.

“The market rate for pilots has risen significantly, and Delta is not only the most profitable airline in the industry today, but it’s the most profitable airline in the history of the industry,” he said.

Capt. Tim Hooey, a Delta pilot who is Detroit spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, argued Delta’s competitors now make more than Delta pilots, who are still paid at 2004 rates.

According to the airline, the 2015 average total compensation for a pilot at Delta was $258,300. It noted that compensation was more than for several other airlines’ pilots, including United Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

“The big thing to know is that we’re 40 percent below what we were in 2004,” Hooey said.

“That’s over a decade. When you’re talking $1.56 billion in one quarter, and it’s usually the worst quarter ... the pilots have not gotten any rewards, and we’re the ones that are biggest stakeholders in this airline. Literally, we do the heavy lifting.”

(313) 222-2620