US Court of Appeals rules in favor of Atlas Air in pilot union labor dispute 

On June 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals (COA) affirmed a ruling from a district court that favors Atlas Air, Inc. and Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, Inc., subsidiaries of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc., in a labor dispute with their pilot unions. 

The ruling knocks down an appeal the union filed claiming that the district court had no jurisdiction in the original case, based on the terms of its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Atlas Air.  

In 2016, Atlas Air asked the district court for an injunction over the interpretation and application of the existing CBA between the two companies and issues of work slowdown encouraged by the union that Atlas Air claimed was affecting its operations. 

Atlas argued that the actions the union took to pressure its company in negotiations for an amended CBA establishes a “major dispute” that should be resolved in court. Meanwhile, the union had claimed that the question of its conduct’s permissibility concerns the interpretation or application of its existing CBA. It further contends that any grievances about the way they do interpret or apply the CBA must be resolved through the procedures established in the agreement.  

At the time, the district court ruled that it did have jurisdiction and ordered the union to stop encouraging pilots to “block out on time,” call in sick on short notice, and refuse to volunteer for overtime shifts.  

Ultimately, the COA agreed with the district court and affirmed its ruling, stating in the recent filing that “a dispute over the terms of a new or amended collective bargaining agreement is unequivocally major.” 

“We are both surprised and deeply disappointed by the court’s decision,” Edward Gleason, an attorney who represents Teamsters Local 1224, said. “The court has affirmed a status quo injunction without ever identifying the status quo that the union is said to have violated. That is the same fundamental mistake that the district court made, and it is one that we believe warrants reconsideration and reversal by the court.  We therefore fully anticipate filing a petition for rehearing along with a petition for rehearing en banc.”

Atlas Air has been involved in negotiations with its pilot unions for several years now, as detailed in the rulingThe union requested to enter CBA negotiations in February 2016, but the dispute began heating up in August 2017 when the Teamsters Local 1224 warned Atlas Air that the carrier’s unwillingness to meet demands was increasing pilot attrition, which could potentially impact the company’s ability to operate routes. At the time, the carrier responded that the warnings were part of an overall campaign from the pilots and their union to put public pressure on the company with respect to its next labor contract.” 

Last month, another Atlas Air subsidiary, Southern Air, Inc., also won an arbitration agreement against the Airline Professionals Association union in a disagreement over a merger between the two companies. 

This article was updated with a comment from the union’s attorney. 

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