Months after an ABX Air pilot strike grounded flights for DHL and Amazon for two days, ABX pilots and the airline, owned by Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), reached a settlement agreement that returns the pilots’ right to take compensatory days off after they are forced to work on their off days to cover flights due to staffing shortages.
This resolution puts an end to the issue that prompted the pilots to walk off the job: pilots were regularly forced to work overtime and called out on emergency assignments on their days off, creating strain and keeping pilots away from their families. The pilots were not permitted to take the compensatory days off provided for in their contract. Still, pilots are concerned that the airline will not have enough pilots given the growing pilot shortage.
The settlement, which was finalized between the pilots’ union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Airline Division and the Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224 and ABX Air on Wednesday, restores the status quo in their current, concessionary contract by guaranteeing that pilots can use their earned days off and puts an end to the ongoing litigation related to the strike, including a court injunction blocking it. The agreement eliminates a large backlog of accrued, earned days off – which had aggravated the staffing shortages – and restores the pilots’ right to use any new days they earn starting in March. A labor arbitrator will decide whether ABX can put any new restrictions on that right.
ABX Air Captain and Executive Council Chairman Rick Ziebarth issued the following statement on the agreement:
“ABX Air pilots went on strike to bring to light a clear violation of our contract that was precipitated by a severe staffing crisis that forced us to miss important family events like our children’s birthdays, wedding anniversaries and graduations and threatened our ability to deliver for our valued customers like DHL and Amazon.
“By sticking together and standing up for our families, airline and customers, we won an agreement that restores our time off to rest so we can work and fly safely.
“ABX Air pilots and our union applaud the company’s recent steps to increase hiring and address the staffing shortage at ATSG. Going forward we need an industry-standard contract that allows us to recruit and retain the pilots needed to deliver for our customers long-term.”
In late November of 2016, 250 ABX Air pilots went on a two-day strike that grounded more than 75 flights for customers including DHL and Amazon, creating what Fox Business called a “rocky start” for Amazon Prime Air.
ABX Air pilots endured furloughs and wage and benefit concessions when DHL abruptly cut its operations in Wilmington, Ohio in 2008. Since then, ABX pilots have been working under the 2009 concessionary contract with ABX and have been negotiating for an amended contract for more than two years.
Pilots at Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW), Amazon’s other cargo contractor and DHL’s largest one, are also bargaining for a fair contract and struggling with severe staffing shortages. Atlas pilots, who also are members of Local 1224, say the company’s refusal to come to an industry-standard contract is driving many pilots to seek opportunities at other carriers, such as FedEx and UPS, and making it increasingly difficult to attract new hires. In January 2017 alone, the pilot attrition rate at Atlas Air more than doubled compared to the monthly average for 2016, with 30 pilots leaving for other airlines and 6 pilots not showing up for their hiring class.
AAWW recently acquired Southern Air and is attempting to force Atlas and Southern pilots to merge the Atlas Air contract with Southern Air’s concessionary contract, a contract that was negotiated during bankruptcy and falls far below industry standards.