Pilots union dispute heats up with potential strike vote

On ongoing dispute between a prominent pilots’ union and five carriers that operate DHL’s North American network recently reached a new level as the union members have decided to vote to authorize a potential strike action over disagreement in contract negotiations.

Over the next 10 days, nearly 2,000 pilots represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 1224, will decide whether to strike against the carriers Atlas Air, Southern Air and Polar Air, which are owned by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW), as well as ABX, owned by Air Transport Services Group. Pilots for a fifth airline, Kalitta Air, already voted to authorize a strike, if necessary, last December. Altogether, the five airlines handle about 70 percent of DHL’s annual freight tonnage, the union said.

Last week, a spokesperson for AAWW said that the union had “no right to strike” under the current circumstances, no matter what the outcome of the vote. The Atlas and Southern Collective Bargaining Agreements, AAWW said, stipulated that, following the merger of AAWW and Southern Air Holdings, “if the parties cannot reach a joint contract, any open issues are resolved through an orderly resolution process.”

At the center of the dispute are compensation and the minimum required hours the pilots must fly. According to Teamsters Local 1224, DHL-contracted pilots are paid less and work much longer hours than pilots who fly for U.S. logistics companies UPS and FedEx. Pilots at Atlas, Polar and Southern, the union said, have been forced to fly long hours with minimal rest time in between flights.

“No one wants to go on strike, but we can’t continue operating under our current workplace rules which keep pilots on duty for almost 28 hours without rest,” said Captain Bryan Holmberg, a Southern Air pilot.

The Teamsters also said that ABX pilots endured furloughs and wage and benefit concessions in 2009, when DHL cut its operations in Wilmington, Ohio. Since then, they said, pilots have been working under the 2009 concessionary contract with ABX and have been negotiating for an amended contract for more than two years.

Meanwhile, pilots for AAWW’s Atlas Air Cargo, Polar Air Cargo and Southern Air have been working on new collective bargaining agreements, but those talks stalled after AAWW announced its acquisition of Southern Air and Florida West. The latter two carriers, the union said, operate under a concessionary contract “far below industry standards that was approved during the company’s 2012 bankruptcy,” which could have the effect of suppressing wages and lowering the quality-of-life benefits at other carriers.

The AAWW spokesperson added last week that the Southern acquisition “is very good for Atlas and Southern pilots.” When the merger details were initially announced, she said, “the International Leadership as well as that of Local 1224’s recognized the benefits of this merger by endorsing the transaction.”

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