Delta Seeks Court Order Forcing Pilot Overtime

ByJustin Bachman
December 5, 2000, 10:01 AM

A T L A N T A, Dec. 5, 2000 -- Hoping to end a daily scramble to staff flights, Delta Air Lines will ask a federal judge today to compel its pilots to resume flying overtime shifts.

The airline canceled more than 300 flights over the weekend and has struggled for more than three weeks to schedule enough pilots to fulfill its daily schedule of nearly 2,700 flights.

Delta wants the court order “to reverse the impact of an illegal job action that has inconvenienced tens of thousands of its passengers in recent days,” spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said late Monday. The company planned a news conference this morning about its lawsuit.

Delta, the nation’s third-biggest carrier, says pilots’ overtime requests have plunged 60 to 70 percent from normal levels. Delta says only about 5 percent of its schedule is based on overtime flying, but a few canceled flights can exacerbate the problem throughout its route system.

Delta officials did not provide the number of flights canceled Monday because of crew shortages, but said the weekend flight disruptions affected more than 40,000 passengers.

The pilots’ union, the Air Line Pilots Association, said Delta’s “legal fight is disappointing and regrettable for both the traveling public and pilots.”

“We have repeatedly and consistently and clearly told our membership that we’re opposed to concerted work actions of any type,” ALPA spokeswoman Karen Miller said.

Combining Flights

The Atlanta-based airline said it is calling as many customers as possible to notify them of canceled and delayed flights and urges Delta passengers to provide their phone numbers when they make reservations.

In cities where Delta offers frequent service — Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Washington — the company is trying to combine some flights, spokesman Russ Williams said. Passengers to and from many other destinations are being rebooked on other carriers.

Delta has been in contract negotiations with the pilots since September 1999. Many of Delta’s 9,400 pilots have been declining voluntary overtime assignments since last month, when Delta presented ALPA with a 10-year pay proposal that pilots contend is inadequate.

Delta is seeking to tie pilots’ future pay with the company’s financial performance. The pilots want a four-year deal offering annual raises.

The suit makes Delta the latest airline seeking court relief to restore service as upset workers seek improved contracts.

American sued its pilots’ union last year and won a $45.5 million judgment after a “sickout” forced thousands of canceled flights, and Northwest has obtained a court order against its mechanics for job actions that have hobbled that carrier’s flights.

United Airlines canceled thousands of flights this summer because pilots refused extra flying and is now embroiled in contentious contract talks with its mechanics.

Little Holiday Cheer

For the most part, passengers at Delta’s Atlanta hub were understanding of the labor troubles Monday.

Roger Jones, who travels weekly from his home in Heber Springs, Ark., said three of his four Delta flights in recent weeks had been canceled. Monday morning, Jones waited for a flight from Atlanta to Birmingham, Ala., after his previous one was canceled.

“They called me [Sunday] night at home and said they didn’t have a flight crew,” Jones said. “I’ll be a couple of hours late. It is an inconvenience.”

Carmen Santiago of Miami Beach, Fla., who also was trying to get to Birmingham, said she “wasn’t too upset” because another flight was available in an hour.

Many pilots mistakenly believe that not flying overtime will improve the union’s bargaining position — a view ALPA disputes, said Greg Holm, a union spokesman and Delta pilot.

ALPA is drafting a letter to members warning them that such job actions are not productive and could harm contract talks, he said.

“There are just some people out there who are just very angry” at Delta, Holm said. “And maybe there are some who think it has worked at other airlines, who knows?”

Under their contract the pilots can decide individually whether to fly extra hours. Overtime flying is “not to be used as a vehicle for concerted activity,” Miller said in a recording on the union’s telephone message line for pilots.

United Airlines and Northwest Airlines also have recently complained of job actions by workers involved in contract negotiations forcing flight delays or cancellations. Unions for both airlines have denied the allegations.

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