Delta pilots approve deal to avoid furloughs

Union members agree to pay cuts to save 1,713 jobs

Delta Air Lines pilots agreed to pay cuts to avoid furloughs.

The deal allows the Atlanta-based airline to reduce pilots’ guaranteed pay by 5%. Those who had been in danger of losing their jobs will only get roughly a third of regular pay when not working.

In exchange, Delta will not furlough pilots until at least Jan. 1, 2022. The airline had earlier threatened to furlough 1,713 pilots, including nearly 500 in Atlanta.

Of the ballots cast, 74% were in favor, according to the Air Line Pilots Association union at Delta, whose leaders voted 14-5 for the deal before putting it up for a ratification vote by members.

Results were announced Wednesday. The deal takes effect immediately.

“This agreement will help Delta navigate the COVID crisis and emerge a stronger airline in the end,” said Delta pilots union spokesman Chris Riggins. With a seniority system tying many pilots to one airline until retirement, “we have a vested interest in seeing Delta really do well.”

A total of 9,185 of the airline’s 12,900 pilots cast ballots in the ratification vote.

Many Delta pilots were concerned with the reduction in guaranteed pay. Delta pilots union chairman Ryan Schnitzler told them in a memo that they would have a chance to make up some of the money lost with overtime when flying picks up again next summer as hoped.

As part of the deal, the union said Delta also would make some improvements in pilot schedules and establish a plan for pilots to save extra money for retirement with tax savings.

The pilots’ agreement in principle includes a provision that the agreement will be paused if a federal CARES Act extension under the same terms as the original stimulus deal is approved.

Delta in September said it would be able to avoid furloughs for flight attendants and ground workers in the U.S. because of buyouts, early retirements and other cost-cutting measures. The pilots were the last employee group at the airline facing the threat of furloughs.

Other airlines have cut jobs as travel remains slow due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Southwest Airlines is planning to furlough more than 80 employees in Atlanta, according to a notice filed with the Georgia Department of Labor, as part of a furlough of hundreds of Southwest employees across the country, including mechanics and other maintenance workers. The Southwest furloughs in Atlanta would take effect in January 2021.

Delta has had more than 40,000 employees agree to take unpaid leaves of absence and cut its payroll by about 19,000 through buyout and early retirements, along with cutting many ground employees’ hours and total pay by 25%.

Now, with 75,000 employees, it says it is the only major airline to avoid involuntary furloughs among its frontline workers, though some employees in international locations have been furloughed.

Delta’s senior vice president and chief of operations John Laughter told pilots in a memo that with the approved agreement, “we will be well positioned to bring all our pilots back into active flying status as customer demand returns.”

“There has been no doubt that this has been a tough time with months of uncertainty,” Laughter wrote. “We are grateful to keep all our pilots actively employed,” he added.