Pilots from ABX Air, which flies packages for Amazon.com and DHL Worldwide Express, are on strike today in Cincinnati and Wilmington as Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), the carrier’s parent company goes to court seeking an injunction that would, “restore the status quo operating environment.” The two cities are major DHL and Amazon hubs, respectively, and the move is already delaying holiday shipments as companies ramp up for the busiest season of the year.
The Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224, reported that 250 ABX Air pilots went on strike, forcing the cancellation of 75 flights so far. According to the loadstar, 1.5 million Amazon and DHL deliveries will be delayed.
While the Teamsters Local 1224, which represents ABX pilots, and ATSG management are engaged in ongoing disputes over a new labor contract, it appears that the current strike is about a “return to the status quo,” and not to do with inking a new agreement. That “status quo,” the union argues, has been violated by excessive overtime requirements without the requisite time off.
According to Daniel Wells, who spoke on behalf of the union, pilots are denied days off under the “emergency assignment” designation, and compensatory days off are in turn denied for the same reason, effectively giving the pilots little to no control over their schedules. Wells noted that the approximately 250 pilots are collectively owed 7,000 compensatory days. He added that pilots that refuse can be disciplined or fired.
When ABX began flying for Amazon, it also changed their operating system away from the hub and spoke model, which Wells explained, required pilots to alternate between daytime and nighttime flying. Pilots for ABX claim that the airline is not doing enough to ameliorate the effects of this schedule transition, that it is in clear violation of the contract, and that ATSG is aware of the problem but won’t act.
ATSG has declined to comment.
With about 250 ABX pilots on strike, and picketing outside their employer’s headquarters, there are reports that pilots for Atlas Air Worldwide, Southern Air and Kallita are no longer flying as well, since they can’t be forced to cross another carrier’s picket line according to their contracts. Pilots flying for the aforementioned carriers are leaving striking airports after landing. This has in effect grounded all DHL and Amazon freight out of Cincinnati and Wilmington.
ATSG said it will seek a court order today to “restore the status quo operating environment,” and said that discussions with union representatives are ongoing. ABX Air President John Starkovich said, “We expect the court will uphold our position that the actions taken by the union to refuse work assignments is not legal, and the issues involved constitute a minor dispute to be resolved via arbitration under terms of our current labor agreements.”
On the union side, pilots complain that they have been significantly understaffed for two years now, making “emergency” assignments the new status quo. “The situation has risen to the level where the company is illegally violating its contract with pilots by not allowing them to take contractually obligated compensatory time for the forced extra work. Throughout the year and now, especially during the 4th quarter, ABX has been forcing its pilots to fly flights because it had intentionally short-staffed its operations in the face of increased customer demands,” the union stated in a press release today
“Hopefully, sane minds will prevail and we’ll get things back to normal operations today,” said Quint Turner, chief financial officer ATSG. The company’s second airline, Air Transport International, is operating and will take steps to accommodate extra cargo caused by the pilot strike, he said.