Updated from 1:45 p.m. EDT
Delta Air Lines
celebrates 75 years of flying with a series of anniversary-themed events at its Atlanta hub, the troubled carrier has another reason to cheer -- unionized pilots are preparing a new plan to cut their pay.
After a three-day meeting to discuss the state of the carrier, union leaders from the Air Line Pilots Association sent a message to the rank-and-file this week that they were heading back to the negotiating table with a new proposal. The move is the first break in a nearly six-month impasse between management, which has stuck to demands for a 34.5% pay cut, and the union, which had countered with a 13.5% cut and the deferral of some raises.
"What we're going to do is take another look at the economics of this corporation and how it runs -- $40 a gallon for oil isn't helping anyone right now," said Chris Rankel, a spokesperson for the pilots union. "We're going to do something before the situation gets so precarious nothing can be done. We're going to try to re-energize the talks."
In reaction to the news, shares of Delta gained 40 cents, or 6.8%, to $6.27. With 54 million Delta shares short, any positive -- or negative -- news on wage concessions likely will trigger large swings in the stock.
No formal negotiations have been established, but Delta management said it welcomed a new proposal from the union.
"We are encouraged that ALPA recognizes the need to provide Delta with a significant economic benefit," said Katie Connell, a spokesperson for Delta. "We look forward to hearing soon from ALPA about resuming formal negotiations."
While the pilots spokesman would not give specifics on what the union was willing to offer in terms of concessions or how far apart negotiations are -- Delta's concessions package is valued at $800 million a year vs. $300 million for the union's -- he did say the union's share of the sacrifice would be "significant."
Earlier this week, Delta's pilots union met in Los Angeles, taking a hard look at the company's finances in the wake of dire warnings from CEO Gerald Grinstein, who has said the company will be forced to file Chapter 11 if pilots do not cut their pay. While pilots seem to heed the message, they insist such sacrifices must be shared, so the company can avoid the fate seen by
which is teetering on the brink of another bankruptcy, despite deep concessions from unions.
"We want to be part of a cost structure that will allow Delta to compete and we will offer concessions contingent on an overall restructuring of the airline," said Rankel. "The pilots are shareholders in this company, too. We all own a considerable amount of stock and we're looking at it and asking management where their plan is."
Indeed, Delta management is still working on its top-to-bottom re-evaluation of the company's business model. Originally, the report was supposed to be completed by now, but the company delayed it until mid-to-late August as a number of key executives -- including its CFO, COO and lead negotiator with unions -- left the company.
Going forward, Rankel said the union will be putting together a new proposal to present to Delta management at some point this summer, likely before Delta's review is completed.
"We've been trying for a year to get something going and haven't borne any fruit," he said. "We met this week and we're going to make another push to re-engage here."