After weeks of voting, the union representing nearly 2,000 American pilots who fly worldwide for carriers that operate DHL’s network, released the results of a a strike authorization vote, showing 99 percent of the participating pilots voting in favor of a possible strike. According to the Teamsters Local 1224 union, 93 percent of their represented pilots flying for five designated DHL carriers – Atlas, Southern, Polar, ABX and Kalitta – took part in the nearly unanimous vote.
The announcement came a day before DHL’s parent company, Deutsche Post DHL, is scheduled to begin its annual shareholder meeting in Germany.
Should a strike be declared, it could have wide-range impacts on DHL, as the union represents about 70 percent of the pilots in DHL’s total air network. Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW) owns Atlas Air, Inc., Polar Air Cargo, Inc. and Southern Air Holdings, Inc. Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) owns ABX.
If a lengthy pilot strike does occur, it could also have an impact on Amazon.com’s plans to launch its own air cargo network. Both ATSG and Atlas Air have reached similar agreements to operate 20 freighters each for Amazon’s domestic air cargo needs. None of the Atlas/Amazon aircraft are flying yet, but ATSG is already operating seven 767 freighters for Amazon in the U.S.
The pilots at the five U.S. cargo carriers have been voting online through anonymous balloting since April. Pilots at Atlas, Southern, Polar, and ABX first called for the strike vote in March as concerns grew out of lingering contract negotiations with their individual carriers. Kalitta pilots authorized a strike in December 2015.
“This is truly an unprecedented situation where pilots across five different companies are standing up together to send a message that we refuse to be treated below industry standards,” said Captain Mike Griffith, an Atlas pilot. “By calling this strike vote, we are telling our respective companies – and DHL – that they need to listen to the pilots who keep them flying.”
Pilots at the above airlines have said said they are overworked by extended contract negotiations and ready to come to an agreement. Kalitta’s pilots have been engaged in prolonged negotiations with the company for nearly six years. Meanwhile, ATGS’s ABX pilots had to accept furloughs and wage and benefit concessions in 2009, when DHL cut its operations in Wilmington, Ohio. Since then, pilots have been working under the 2009 concessionary contract with ABX and have been negotiating for an amended contract for more than two years.
The Atlas pilots are currently in mediated negotiations, but the union said its pilots are increasingly concerned by AAWW’s and Atlas Air’s insistence that Atlas Air and Polar pilots stop ongoing contract negotiations and merge their contract with the Southern Air pilots’ existing bankruptcy contract. Such a move, the Teamsters said, would leave pilots at both airlines with a contract that is below industry standards.