(The Hill) – Delta Air Lines pilots overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike on Monday if a new contract agreement with the carrier is not reached.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents the pilots, said 99 percent voted to call a strike if necessary, with the vast majority of its members participating.

“Today, Delta’s nearly 15,000 pilots sent a clear message to management that we are willing to go the distance to secure a contract that reflects the value we bring to Delta Air Lines as frontline leaders and long-term stakeholders,” said Capt. Jason Ambrosi, who chairs Delta’s pilot union. 

Under federal law, pilots cannot go on strike unless a federal government board declares an impasse in negotiations. After a 30-day cool-off period, the union can go on strike or the carrier could initiate a lockout.

The union on Monday said its pilots are working under a contract negotiated in 2016 and discussions about a new contract that began in April 2019 have not borne fruit.

Discussions were paused for nearly two years during the pandemic, but the mediated talks resumed in January, the union said.

In a statement, the airline stressed that the vote will not affect customers and many steps remain before a strike is allowed.

“Delta and ALPA have made significant progress in our negotiations and have only a few contract sections left to resolve,” the airline said. “We are confident that the parties will reach an agreement that is fair and equitable, as we always have in past negotiations.”

As air travel demand resurged this year, the industry struggled to rebound after downsizing during the pandemic, with delays blamed in part on a pilot shortage that has particularly impacted regional carriers. 

Other pilot groups represented by ALPA have leveraged carriers’ need for labor to negotiate significant raises and other benefits in recent months.

“Delta has rebounded from the pandemic and is poised to be stronger than ever, posting record revenues for the third quarter,” said Ambrosi. “Meanwhile, our negotiations have dragged on for too long. Our goal is to reach an agreement, not to strike. The ball is in management’s court. It’s time for the company to get serious at the bargaining table and invest in the Delta pilots.”

The federally mandated process between the union and Delta echoes a rail union strike that nearly occurred last month, which threatened to halt much of the country’s commercial and freight rail operations.

Railroad companies and unions reached a tentative deal, but multiple unions have since rejected that deal, fueling concern that a strike threat could return in the coming weeks.