Approximately 250 pilots responsible for cargo carrier ABX Air’s flying went on strike early Tuesday morning against their employer, ABX Air, 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” the Airline Professionals Association said in a statement.
“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 like 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.
Air Transport Services Group said ABX Air is taking multiple steps to resolve and end “an illegal work stoppage” that began today by its pilots represented by the Airline Professionals Association of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 1224.
“We will seek a court order later today to restore the status quo operating environment, even as we continue discussions with union representatives about specific issues of concern,” ABX Air President John Starkovich said today.
“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.”
At the same time, Starkovich said:
“ABX Air is notifying its customers and other affected parties about temporary interruptions in ABX’s flight operations, allowing them to adjust their networks until pilots return to work and normal flight operations resume. We stand ready to assist our customers in any way we can to minimize any impact on their own operations during this critical holiday period.”