Delta Wants Union Contract Voided: Pilots Ask Judge to Step Down

November 17, 2005 ( - A hearing in US Bankruptcy Court on Delta Air Lines' request to void its contract with its pilots' union began with an attorney for the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) asking the judge to remove herself from the case.

The Associated Press reports that attorney Bruce Simon said Judge Prudence Carter Beatty had made a number of comments in open court that cast doubt on her ability to be impartial.   Simon quoted Beatty as saying in a September 15 hearing that pilots’ wages were “hideously high,” and that on November 10, a transcript of a hearing showed Beatty said, “Oh, you know what’s really weird is why anybody agreed to pay them as much money to begin with. They get paid a lot of money.”

Beatty denied Simon’s request saying her comments were made in jest and were misinterpreted, according to the AP.   Delta pilots currently earn an average of $169,393 a year, according to a company bankruptcy court filing.   Junior pilots make considerably less, while senior pilots in some cases make more. The type of aircraft a pilot flies also is a factor in the pay scale.

Delta requested the contract with the ALPA be voided so it can impose deep wage and benefit cuts.   Delta is seeking to slash $325 million from its collective bargaining agreement with its pilots, saying the money is needed to keep its operations running. The ALPA has already offered $90.7 million in concessions and has threatened to strike if the court grants Delta’s request.    In court papers filed Monday, Delta called a potential strike a “murder-suicide” that would eliminate every job at the company.   The airline also argued that, under the Railway Labor Act, a strike would be illegal, the AP reports.

Simon said the ALPA attempted to come to an agreement on further cuts, including an offer of short-term cuts with the possibility of deeper cuts under binding arbitration, but he said the offers were turned away.   He also said the union agreed to $1 billion in concessions last year, and had given back enough.   The deal in 2004 included a 32.5% pay cut.

Delta had argued in a court filing that it should be given the same relief from pension obligations as other airlines who had filed bankruptcy (See  Delta Pilots Fight For Benefits ).   Beatty said attempting to draw comparisons to other airline bankruptcies was useless in considering Delta’s unique case.

Once the hearing is over,Beatty could rule on the request or could give the two sides another 30 days to negotiate an agreement before having to issue her own decision.