While Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW) hosts an investor day in New York, the pilots working for its subsidiary air carriers who fly cargo for DHL and Amazon.com are picketing outside the NASDAQ MarketSite in Times Square.
Through its Atlas Air and Polar Air Worldwide Cargo subsidiaries, AAWW is DHL’s largest American contractor.
Wearing their pilot uniforms and holding signs reading, “Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Pilots Ready to Strike,” “Americans Deserve a Fair Deal from DHL” and “Our Families Deserve Better,” the pilots are currently marching in front of the MarketSite entrance to tell AAWW investors and executives that it’s time for the company to get serious about working with pilots to come to a fair contract agreement that is up to cargo industry standards.
“AAWW investors know that pilots keep our company and DHL running, and they should be deeply concerned that we are ready to go on a strike that would fully halt AAWW’s entire operation,” said Atlas Air pilot Asterios Houtas who is protesting today. “We hope investors will call on AAWW to do what’s in the best interest of everyone — including shareholders, pilots and customers like DHL and Amazon.com — and work with us to come to a fair, industry-standard contract agreement that gives our families the stability we need.”
AAWW owns three airlines that fly for DHL — Atlas Air, Inc., Polar Air Cargo, Inc. and Southern Air Holdings, Inc. – and is refusing to bargain fairly with its pilots and is trying to deny pilots of basic protections like rest time between flights.
The AAWW pilots are also joined in solidarity by pilots from ABX, another carrier whose parent company contracts with DHL and Amazon.com. Amazon.com just signed an agreement with Atlas Air to double its fleet for domestic packages. In March, ATSG, ABX’s owner, announced an agreement with Amazon.com to operate an air cargo network serving Amazon customers in the U.S.
“We may fly for different carriers, but DHL is the common thread that runs through our airlines, and now, for many of us, Amazon.com is too,” said ABX pilot Rick Ziebarth who is supporting the Atlas pilots in their picketing today. “We are united and ready to strike because our airlines are leading a global race to the bottom that is hurting both the cargo industry and the logistics industry. We know our families deserve better.”
Despite rising profits at AAWW and DHL, AAWW and its airline affiliates refuse to negotiate fairly with its Atlas, Polar and Southern pilots. In an effort to sidestep negotiations that had begun before the AAWW-SAI acquisition, AAWW and its airline affiliates are attempting to force the pilots to merge the now obsolete Atlas Air contract with Southern Air’s concessionary contract, a contract that was negotiated during bankruptcy. AAWW’s stated objective is to merge the two contracts through binding arbitration, rather than through traditional arms-length negotiations with its pilots in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, the federal statute that governs airline negotiations. This push to force arbitration upon the pilots is part of an overarching strategy to suppress wages and slash quality of life provisions and pilot work protections, thereby driving down standards for the entire industry.
Meanwhile, the pilots flying for recently-acquired Southern Air were forced to give huge wage, benefit and work rule concessions when Southern Air was in bankruptcy and in danger of liquidation. The result is that the Southern Air pilots have continued working too many hours flying cargo around the world for very little pay and even less rest because the company forces the pilots to adhere to exhausting and dangerous flight and duty time standards to set their duty days, operating aircraft as long as 30 hours without rest. The current Atlas Air contract is also now below current industry standards. According to a comparison study conducted by Teamsters Local 1224, AAWW pilots are paid considerably less and work much longer hours than pilots who fly for UPS or FedEx. Pilots at Atlas, Polar and Southern reported being forced to fly long hours with minimal rest time in between flights, leading to dangerous fatigue.
At ABX, pilots endured furloughs and wage and benefit concessions when DHL abruptly cut its operations in Wilmington, Ohio in 2009. 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.
Citing growing concerns over stalled contract negotiations, pilots at the three AAWW carriers, ABX and an additional DHL carrier, Kalitta Air, recently voted with 99 percent support to strike if necessary. Nearly 2,000 pilots voted. The pilots at the five carriers are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and its airline affiliate, Teamsters Local 1224.
A strike would halt AAWW’s global flying and cripple operations for DHL. DHL accounts for more than 50 percent of Atlas Air’s business, and it is the sole customer of Southern Air. A strike could also have a significant impact on Amazon.com.
AAWW and DHL have all seen profits rise in recent years. DHL reported €59.2 billion (66.7 billion US dollars) in increased consolidated revenue this past year, with the express division – which includes the operations of AAWW and Southern Air– being its strongest and most profitable division. Adjusted net income attributable in 2015 to AAWW’s common stockholders totaled $125.3 million, or $5.01 per diluted share, on revenues of $1.8 billion.
Atlas Air pilots and AAWW recently entered into federally mediated contract negotiations. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Teamsters Airline Division and APA Teamsters Local 1224, filed for mediation with the National Mediation Board (NMB) after Atlas Air refused to engage in any further legally-mandated negotiations.