The pilots union at Delta Air Lines Inc. ordered members to clear their lockers Friday in anticipation of a possible strike the union says is "becoming more likely every day."

The union representing the airline's 5,930 pilots is in a protracted dispute with management over long-term pay and benefit cuts that Atlanta-based Delta is seeking.

The company has asked an arbitration panel to void its contract with pilots so it can impose up to $325 million in cuts. The pilots union has said it will strike if the contract is thrown out.

The panel must rule by April 15, and the pilots have given their union leader authorization to call a strike anytime after April 17.

The union says its action Friday was to prepare for the possibility of a strike by having pilots remove flight gear and personal belongings from their lockers in crew rooms across the country.

The union said removing the items will prevent senior executives at the nation's third-largest carrier from blocking access to the equipment by a lockout.

Delta spokesman Bruce Hicks said the airline's "focus will remain and our energies will remain on the critical issue of reaching a consensual agreement," adding that "that's the most important action, and in everyone's best interest."