(The Hill) — Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told NBC on Monday that there is “no possibility” of the carrier’s pilots striking during Christmas after its pilot union voted to authorize a strike as it negotiates a new contract.
“There is no possibility they could strike at Thanksgiving, Christmas or any time,” Bastian told “Today” anchor Hoda Kotb.
Delta pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) overwhelmingly voted late last month to authorize a strike as the group continued contract discussions that began in April 2019 but were paused for nearly two years during the pandemic.
Under federal law, pilots cannot go on strike unless the National Mediation Board declares an impasse in negotiations. After a 30-day cool-off period, the union can go on strike or the carrier could initiate a lockout.
The board has not yet made such a declaration, meaning that the cool-off period would prevent a strike until at least next month. But Bastian expressed confidence on Monday that a strike will ultimately not move forward.
“Not Christmas?” Kotb asked Bastian.
“No, absolutely not,” Bastian responded. “We are in mediation with the National Mediation Board, and there are many phases and stages you have to go — we are actually a lot closer than people like to think in terms of trying to get this deal done, hopefully soon.”
“It’s a tactic that all the unions, in fact I should say all the airline unions, pilot unions, have deployed,” he continued. “But the reality is that we have the very best pilots, they already are the very best compensated, we’re going to make sure they stay the best compensated, so there won’t be any issue.”
Delta’s pilot union is one of many that have looked to leverage airlines’ need for labor to increase compensation and benefits.
“Despite a strong recovery and significant profits, airlines continue to ignore the simple reality that their business plans won’t fly without the pilots onboard,” the union said in a statement last week. “Many pilots are still working under contracts negotiated years ago, long before the world was disrupted by COVID-19. Returning to a prepandemic mindset is an unwise business choice and ignores the reality of the changing work world.”
The Hill has reached out to ALPA for further comment.
The industry struggled to rebound from pandemic downsizings as travel demand resurged this year, with delays blamed in part on a pilot shortage that has particularly impacted regional carriers. ALPA has rejected that a shortage exists.
United Airlines’ pilot union, which is also part of the ALPA, rejected a tentative agreement last week that was presented by the carrier over the summer.
“By the Company’s own admission, this agreement missed the mark,” said Mike Hamilton, the chair of the United pilot union. “That’s why both parties agreed to reengage at the bargaining table for a new, improved agreement. It is vital United management recognizes that an industry-leading contract is required to hire, train and retain the best pilots in the world for the United Next growth plan to succeed.”