Pilots at Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines voted to approve a new union contract that will give them an initial 18% pay raise.
The vote resolves simmering labor tensions that heated up last year when pilots threatened the possibility of a strike if they did not reach a contract that addressed their concerns. Delta is largely non-union and its pilots are the carrier’s biggest organized labor unit.
The vote comes ahead of what is expected to be a busy spring and summer travel season for the airline industry.
The ballots cast were 78% in favor of ratifying the labor agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association at Delta, with 96% of eligible pilots casting votes.
The deal gives the 15,000 pilots at Delta raises of 34% over four years. The agreement that runs through Dec. 31, 2026, will give them “industry leading pay rates” and quality-of-life improvements, according to Delta pilots union chairman Darren Hartmann. The pilots also approved an agreement for job protections for lucrative international flying.
It amounts to “the richest contract ever negotiated by a mainline carrier in the industry,” according to Hartmann. “After years of working under bankruptcy-era contracts, we have taken a significant step forward in restoring the profession.” He indicated interest in helping pilots at other airlines to “build upon our momentum.”
Still, the vote results signal some dissatisfaction with the terms. Some pilots were seeking more improvements to the contract, after going four years without raises. Delta reported a $1.3 billion profit for 2022. The union’s leadership was also not unanimously in favor of the deal when they decided in January to send it to members for a ratification vote. Of the union’s leaders, 14 voted in favor of it and three against.
The road to the contract “was challenging, but our resolve never faltered,” Hartmann told pilots.
The last Delta pilots contract was struck in 2016 for a term that ran through 2019. Negotiations for a new contract started in 2019, but were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed in early 2022.
Credit: Daniel Varnado
Credit: Daniel Varnado
Before a contract agreement was reached, Delta pilots last year picketed at airports and voted to authorize their leaders to call a strike if necessary.
“From the beginning of the negotiations process, we set out to deliver the industry’s best pilot contract to the industry’s best pilots, one that keeps us as a top destination for U.S. aviation careers, and this contract is a reflection of that unwavering commitment,” Delta Chief of Operations John Laughter said in a statement.
The 18% pay increase will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023. That would be followed by a 5% raise after the first year, 4% after the second year and another 4% after the third year.
Delta pilot pay varies depending on schedule, aircraft and other factors, but current flight pay can range from an average of $75,000 a year for a starting first officer to more than $300,000 a year for captains of wide-body planes, based on flying 75 hours a month.
Delta pilots will get a one-time payment equivalent to 14% of their pay last year plus 4% of their pay for each of the previous two years. And, the agreement ensures Delta pilots will have pay rates at least 1% higher than pilot pay at United Airlines and American Airlines.
The pilots agreement also brings improvements in holiday pay, vacation, 401(k) contributions and work rules. And it allows pilots 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, two weeks of paid parental leave and reduced medical insurance premiums.
The union said that overall, the agreement increases the value of the contract by 45%, with $7 billion in cumulative increases over the four years.
The deal also further restricts Delta’s use of regional jets, a form of outsourcing with regional carriers operating flights flown by lower-paid pilots.
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