Atlanta Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots, angered by management's effort to throw out their contract and impose deep pay cuts, voted by a wide margin to authorize a strike, union leaders said Tuesday.
The 94.7 percent vote in favor of authorizing a strike gives union leaders the authority to set a strike date. They didn't set a date immediately and gave no indication when they might act.
The results were announced in a memo to pilots from Lee Moak, chairman of the union's executive committee.
An arbitration panel must decide by April 15 whether to void the pilots' contract. The union has said it would strike if its contract was rejected.
The nation's third largest carrier, which is operating under bankruptcy protection, has said a strike would put it out of business.
Any strike likely would prompt a court challenge by the company, which would almost certainly seek a restraining order.
Moak said that during a special meeting today he would ask union leaders to give him sole authority to set a strike date.
He said the union was still open to negotiations, but he insisted the company hasn't been willing to compromise.
"It's problematic when people want to call it negotiations and one side isn't negotiating," Moak said.
Company spokesman Bruce Hicks said the vote made public Tuesday would not affect Delta service.
He added that the company is committed to seeking a consensual deal with its pilots.
"The panel asked us to work privately and quietly and we're doing everything we can to honor their requests," Hicks said.
Atlanta-based Delta sought approval to reject its contract with its 5,930 pilots so that it can impose up to $325 million in long-term pay and benefit cuts, which would include a wage reduction of at least 18 percent.
Delta's pilots previously agreed to $1 billion in annual concessions, including a 32.5 percent wage cut, in a five-year deal in 2004. But Delta, which has imposed pay cuts on other employees, said it needed more from its pilots after filing for bankruptcy protection in September.