The executive committee of the pilots union at Delta Air Lines Inc. voted unanimously Thursday to ask rank-and-file members to authorize a strike as the airline seeks to impose $325 million in concessions on them.
The decision came after a day-long closed-door meeting in New York, said Lee Moak, chairman of the executive committee.
"It's my recommendation that the pilot group vote for the strike ballot," he said.
The nation's third-largest airline, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in New York on Sept. 14, has asked a bankruptcy court to reject the pilots' contract so it can impose the concessions on its 6,000 pilots, which would include a 19 percent pay cut.
Delta lawyers have asserted in court that the company believes it could impose new contract terms on its pilots starting next Friday even if the judge does not rule on Delta's contract rejection request by then.
It's not clear what Delta's position would be if the judge were to extend the hearings beyond that date.
The pilots, who are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, initially offered $90.7 million in average annual concessions over four years. They have since reviewed their proposal and now value it at $150 million, which would include a 9 percent pay cut for seven months followed by smaller cuts thereafter.
The cuts would be on top of $1 billion in annual concessions the pilots agreed to last year.
Delta spokeswoman Chris Kelly said the company would continue to try to reach an agreement with its pilots.
"This was an expected procedural vote by the pilots union leadership and in no way impacts our operations or our preference to reach a consensual agreement in time to save the company," Kelly said.
A strike authorization would allow the union to call a strike without having to go to the rank-and-file again. The process calls for voting over 15 days. The timing of sending out ballots is uncertain, union spokesman John Culp said.
"We remain committed to a consensual agreement, but we just have seen no movement," Moak said. "At this moment, management has refused to negotiate. They are still at $325 million."
The airline has said that a strike by its pilots would put the company out of business and that a strike would violate the Railway Labor Act. The union has argued that if its contract is thrown out by the court, it would be allowed to strike.
During a Thursday visit to Atlanta to meet with executives from area companies, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez said he is aware of the situation at Delta, but he declined to say whether the Bush administration would step in if the pilots strike.
"We hope that ultimately they come to a conclusion that is good for everyone," Gutierrez said in an interview.