Delta pilots reject arbitration with Northwest pilots

ATLANTA - Delta Air Lines Inc.'s pilots union rejected Wednesday the idea of submitting to arbitration with its counterpart at Northwest Airlines Corp. to break their impasse over integrating seniority lists as part of a possible combination of the carriers.

'In short, there will be no binding arbitration,' Lee Moak, head of Delta's pilots union, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Pilot union leaders at Northwest had suggested in a memo to rank-and-file Northwest pilots on Tuesday that arbitration may be a way to break the deadlock. Traditionally, arbitration in these situations is binding.

The memo said that 'if management feels the time is now for consolidation, they would be wise to encourage both pilot groups to accept expedited arbitration.'

Arbitration can be a long, contentious process that traditionally follows announcement of a deal between two airlines if their unions can't reach contractual or seniority agreements on their own.

In this case, Atlanta-based Delta and Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest have not announced a combination agreement, and Delta executives have stated they will only move forward on such a deal with another airline if, among other things, the seniority of their employees is protected.

Arbitration might not be desirable for Delta's pilots union because of concern that younger Delta pilots might lose the seniority they obtained after the mass exodus of older pilots ahead of Delta's bankruptcy filing in 2005, industry observers have said. The airline emerged from Chapter 11 protection last April.