The board of the Allied Pilots Association voted 9 to 7 on Wednesday to send American Airlines' "best and final offer" to its members for a vote, and moments later, a bankruptcy judge delayed a ruling planned for Friday on voiding union contracts.
The pilots' vote is expected to start in late July with the results tallied by August 8.
"You've got some different opinions on the board of directors here about the merits of the proposal," APA spokesman Tom Hoban said. "It's a massive concessionary proposal in many respects."
But he said the majority of the board believed it was the best option -- with the judge poised to throw out the contract and allow the airline to temporarily impose cost-cutting measures.
"We had two choices in front of us -- either see our contract terminated by the court on Friday, or accepting something that allowed us to save major portions of our contract and keep it at least partially intact," Hoban said. "Neither of these were good choices but one was far worse than the other."
The union will fill out electronic ballots when they vote on whether to accept the contract.
The judge's delay will give other unions -- flight attendants and mechanics -- more time to negotiate with the airline for their contracts.
The other unions, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the Transport Workers Union, have negotiation sessions planned with the company next week.
American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks released a short written statement saying the airline is pleased with the APA's decision and the judge's announcement.
"We must use the additional time wisely to reach agreements with APFA and TWU on the two remaining agreements rather than wait on the Judge's decision," Hicks said. "It's time to close this chapter and move forward with new contracts that will help build the foundation for a new, profitable and growing American Airlines.”
American has said all along that it wanted to reach voluntary cost-cutting deals with its unions. But negotiations went nowhere for weeks other than settlements with a few smaller groups of workers.
But American may have broken the logjam last week when it eased demands on pilots, including removing a threat to lay off 400 of them.
If ratified, the deal would give American the right to hire other airlines for more of its regional flying, something they pilots have long opposed as a threat to job security.
But the pilots would get 14.8 percent pay raises over five years and a stake in the "new" company that emerges from bankruptcy. Their pension plan would be frozen but not terminated.
Even if no pilots are furloughed, American's current plan still calls for 9,800 job cuts, mostly among ground workers but including 2,300 flight attendants. Those groups are likely to seek reduced job losses in the new negotiations.
NBC 5's Scott Gordon and Greg Janda contributed to this report.