Cargo Carrier Pilots Strike Grounds DHL and Amazon
About 250 pilots are on strike today against ABX Air, grounding flights for Amazon and DHL Worldwide Express, approximately 75 flights have been canceled at start of peak holiday shipping season.
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As reported by Bloomberg, ABX Air, which flies packages for Amazon and DHL Worldwide Express, plans to ask a judge to force striking pilots back to work and thwart a threat to disrupt deliveries during the holiday shopping season.
About 250 pilots employed by ABX Air, a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group Inc., are striking to protest alleged staffing shortages at the cargo carrier. ABX Air operates 35 flights a day for Amazon and 45 daily flights for DHL, according to the Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224 (see below), which represents the pilots. Some flights were grounded.
The action comes as the retail industry gears up for its busiest period and shoppers increasingly shun brick-and-mortar stores and shop from their phones and computers instead.
Online spending in November and December will increase 11 percent this year to $91.6 billion, according to an October forecast from Adobe Systems Inc.
“While they go through this court process, planes are not flying,” said Satish Jindel, president of SJ Consulting Group.
“Obviously that is of concern to a company like DHL or Amazon.” But he said Amazon can shift some volume to United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. and can also find some smaller contract parcel shippers to move packages if needed.
The union says ABX Air is violating its contract by forcing pilots to work an excessive number of emergency assignments - preventing them from taking time off - because it doesn’t have enough pilots to meet the growing demands of companies like Amazon. The world’s biggest online retailer in March announced plans to lease 20 Boeing 767 freighters from ATSG to help it move inventory around the country.
Amazon said in an e-mailed statement that it works with a variety of carriers and is confident in its ability to serve customers. DHL said by e-mail that “due to a work stoppage affecting our airline partners, inbound deliveries to portions of the Americas will be delayed today.”
ABX Air said it will seek a court order Tuesday to “restore the status quo operating environment,” while it continues discussions with union representatives.
“Hopefully, sane minds will prevail and we’ll get things back to normal operations today,” said Quint Turner, chief financial officer for ABX parent ATSG. The company’s second airline, Air Transport International, is operating and will take steps to accommodate any extra demands caused by the pilot strike, he said.
The ABX strike underscores how a national pilot shortage could hinder Amazon’s air cargo aspirations. Its logistics partners have to compete for pilots with UPS, FedEx and passenger carriers that pay better wages and offer better benefits. That’s a different game than filling warehouses with temporary workers because pilots require years of training, especially for big aircraft, said Matt Barton, an aviation industry economist with FlightPath Economics in Golden, Colorado.
“I don’t think Amazon has encountered a problem like the pilot shortage before and it doesn’t have a quick and easy solution,” Barton said. “A lot of these carriers are going to have a hard time finding the pilots they need."
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Pilots Strike at Abx Air, Major Cargo Airline for DHL, Amazon
Approximately 250 pilots responsible for cargo carrier ABX Air’s flying went on strike early Tuesday morning against their employer, ABX Air, Inc., and will not fly scheduled routes, including those for ABX’s major customers DHL and Amazon.
For nearly two years, ABX Air, which is owned by Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), has been significantly understaffed, resulting in pilots continuously being forced to work “emergency” assignments on their off time. 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. ABX refused to recall pilots who had been furloughed as a result of DHL’s termination of North American operations several years ago.
ABX refused to recall those pilots because it did not want to bring them back and pay them at the top of the pilots’ wage scale, as required by the pilots’ contract. ABX instead extinguished those pilots’ recall rights earlier this year and then tried to hire new pilots who would be paid at the bottom of the pilots’ wage scale. ABX management has acknowledged that its penny-wise, pound foolish scheme backfired, as it waited too long to start hiring additional pilots and actually hired too few pilots. Since then, ABX has been forcing its pilots to fly additional trips and disrupting their schedules in an effort to climb out from the staffing hole it dug for itself.
Striking pilots - who are represented by the Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224 - are picketing outside of ABX Air’s headquarters in Wilmington and outside DHL’s North American hub, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). Earlier this year, pilots at ABX Air and four other cargo carriers that fly for DHL voted with 99 percent support to strike if it should become necessary.
“I take my job as a pilot seriously, and I’m committed to serving ABX Air and our customers, but I’m also a father of a little girl and help care for my aging mother,” said Randy Riesbeck, a long-time ABX pilot. “On numerous occasions I have had to miss my daughter’s school events and previously scheduled medical appointments for my mother, all because ABX Air emergency assigned me to work on a day I had scheduled off. How am I supposed to explain to my daughter why I wasn’t there to see her grow up? How do I explain to my mother that I can’t take her to the doctor?”
The company has been forcing many pilots to work weeks at a time, causing stress and strain among hundreds of veteran pilots who have worked at the company for years. To date in 2016, pilots have been scheduled to cover over 8000 emergency assignment days on days they should have had off. As the airline moves into peak holiday flying season, ABX Air and ATSG are refusing to honor contractual provisions regarding compensatory time and vacation time in order to cover the pilot deficit. This change violates the terms of the company’s agreement with the pilots, which is a violation of the status quo under the Railway Labor Act.
The strike at the start of peak flying season could have a significant impact on the delivery operations of ABX’s customers, which include DHL and Amazon. The carrier operates 45 flights a day for DHL. Amazon customers will also see delays and disruptions. ATSG recently signed a contract with Amazon to fly 20 Prime Air planes by 2018 and is already flying 14 aircrafts – 35 flights a day – for the e-commerce giant.
“I have flown for ABX Air for over two decades and always give my all to provide top level service to our customers. Striking isn’t an easy decision and we regret the inconvenience to our customers, but when ABX Air breaks the law and stretches us so thin that our bodies and families are suffering, we have no other choice,” said ABX Air Captain Tim Jewell who is on strike. “Our airline is facing a staffing crisis because ABX and ATSG executives knew they needed more pilots but chose to put our customers, our fellow employees and our shareholders at risk in a vain attempt to save a buck. ABX Air needs to restore the status quo and hire enough pilots so we can get the job done.”
Pilots at other cargo carriers – Atlas Air, Southern Air, Kalitta Air and Polar Air – are expressing their support for the ABX pilots and are committed to not crossing the picket line, should ABX Air call on them to cover the flights grounded due to the strike.
“Pilots throughout the cargo industry stand united with the brave pilots at ABX Air who are standing up for fair and safe standards for all cargo pilots,” said Daniel C. Wells, an Atlas Air captain and president of Teamsters Local 1224. “ABX Air executives need to stop trying to force ABX pilots to make up for their own mismanagement and get serious about hiring enough pilots to serve their customers.”
ABX pilots and their union have been raising concerns about the staffing crisis at the company and its impact on customers. U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black confirmed pilots’ concerns in his recent dismissal of a motion from ABX Air and ATSG for a temporary restraining order against the pilots and their union. He wrote in his ruling: “…by the end of the first quarter of 2016, approximately 40 percent of ABX captains and 33 percent of its first officers had already been forced to fly the contractually allowed emergency assignments.”
The last pilot strike in the United States was in 2010 when Spirit Air pilots walked off the job.
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