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Delta, Northwest pilots eye strikes

Things continue to look bleak for the nation’s two biggest bankrupt airlines, Delta and Northwest. Both are struggling to cut costs and reorganize under bankruptcy protection, and both are facing potential labor battles with the men and women who actually fly the planes.

Yesterday Delta’s pilots union announced it will open a “strike center” in Atlanta today as negotiations with the carrier continued to go nowhere. A strike center is not a strike, nor does it mean the union is certain (or even likely) to strike. It does, however, lay the foundation for such a move should negotiations continue to stall. Delta says it needs about $325 million in pilot concessions in order to move forward with its reorganization plan.

Northwest’s situation might be worse. It’s certainly further along, as the airline’s pilot union last week approved a vote to authorize a strike. That also doesn’t mean there is or will be a strike; instead it leaves the door open if the two sides are unable to reach an agreement.

In both cases what we’re seeing here could just be posturing. A strike doesn’t benefit either side and could be very damaging to everyone involved. On the other hand, the airlines need to find that extra savings somewhere. The elephant in the room, of course, is the one that’s quietly pointing out that the airlines wouldn’t be in this situation at all if they’d managed their businesses better in the past.

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