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Union urges Delta pilots to rally, defend contract

They fear deal will be voided in bankruptcy court

ATLANTA — The pilots union at Delta Air Lines Inc. is encouraging members to pack a rally on Nov. 15 to defend their contract from management's attempt to void it in bankruptcy court.

The rally, which will use the slogan "Our company, our contract," is scheduled to be held at a suburban Atlanta convention center a day before a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York to discuss Delta's request to reject its pilots' collective bargaining agreement.

If a judge voids the contract, the nation's third-largest airline could impose $325 million in concessions it is seeking from its pilots, who thus far have not agreed to the cuts. The concessions would include a 19.5 percent pay cut and other benefit and work rule changes.

Delta, which operates a hub at Salt Lake City International Airport, currently has about 6,000 active pilots.

In a recorded message to pilots, union spokesman John Culp encouraged as many pilots and their spouses as possible to attend the rally.

At the same time, Culp said the union's executive committee has directed its negotiating committee to put forward to Delta a "comprehensive proposal designed to address the company's needs in bankruptcy."

The message did not elaborate on the proposal, nor did a letter to pilots Wednesday from Lee Moak, the chairman of the union's executive committee.

In the letter, Moak said the pilots "will not willingly work without a contract." Union officials said last week they had not ruled out a strike.

"Allowing the contract to be rejected would be disastrous to our careers and way of life, and would poorly serve our company's true needs," Moak wrote.

A group representing retired Delta pilots filed a motion Wednesday in bankruptcy court objecting to Delta's request to reject the pilot contract. The objection accused Delta of acting in bad faith by ceasing certain pension payments despite the contract still being in effect.

Telephone and e-mail messages left for a company spokeswoman seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Atlanta-based Delta filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sept. 14. It has lost nearly $10 billion since January 2001. The company is scheduled to release its third-quarter results today.

Delta has said that although it expects a more than $2 billion loss this year before one-time items, it believes it will return to profitability two years from now if, among other things, it can get the pilot concessions it is seeking and jet fuel doesn't get more costly.

The pilots union, however, has promised a fight over the proposed cuts and the company's effort to reject the union contract.

The cuts Delta is seeking would be on top of $1 billion in annual concessions the pilots agreed to last year.