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Delta pilots to conduct ‘practice strike’

/ Source: The Associated Press

The pilots union at Delta Air Lines Inc., locked in a battle with management over pay cuts, is encouraging rank-and-file members to stage a large demonstration next week that is being described as a “practice strike.”

While full details have not been worked out, union spokeswoman Kelly Collins said in a memo to pilots Friday that the event will take place March 30 near Atlanta.

“Please participate in this opportunity to demonstrate our unity and show Delta management what will happen if they choose to reject our contract,” Collins wrote.

In a telephone interview, Collins said a few hundred pilots are expected to gather for a demonstration, possibly picketing or a march through the airport, though what the exercise will entail has not yet been worked out.

The pilots also will get information on the communications that would be set up in the event of an actual strike, Collins said.

“They don’t stop flying or anything like that,” Collins said. “They volunteer to come. It won’t interrupt service.”

A Delta spokesman indicated the demonstration was not a major issue for the company. “There’s no disruption to our service or to our customers. Our focus remains on doing everything we can do to reach a consensual, comprehensive agreement with the pilots union. Our energies will continue to be focused on that goal, which we believe is achievable,” said company spokesman Bruce Hicks.

Nearly two weeks of arbitration hearings in Washington wrapped up Thursday. A three-member panel has until April 15 to decide on the company’s request to throw out its contract with its 6,000 pilots so it can impose up to $325 million in long-term pay and benefit cuts.

The union has said it will strike if its contract is voided.

The panel urged both sides to come together to reach a deal on their own, saying its decision could be disastrous to the 77-year-old airline, which says it will be forced out of business if its pilots strike.

As of Friday, however, there was no indication of exactly when the two sides would meet.

A strike authorization vote by rank-and-file pilots is scheduled to wrap up April 4. Such votes if successful typically give union leaders the right to set a strike date, but do not necessarily mean a strike is imminent.

Atlanta-based Delta, the nation’s third-largest airline, filed for Chapter 11 protection from its creditors in New York on Sept. 14.