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Atlas Air pilots to protest outside company headquarters

Atlas Air
Tis Meyer /

On September 9, pilots from major DHL and Amazon contractor Atlas Air will protest outside the Purchase headquarters of their airline’s holding company, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW).

This week marks the amendable date of the Atlas pilots’ contract.  The current contract provided for negotiations to commence 270 days prior to the amendable date. AAWW executives met with Teamsters Local 1224 to negotiate new contract terms, but abruptly stopped discussions this past spring. Since then, AAWW insists that pilots merge their contract with the recently-acquired Southern Air pilots’ existing bankruptcy contract rather than amend a new contract as required by federal law.

AAWW owns three airlines that fly for DHL: Atlas Air, Inc., Polar Air Cargo, Inc. and Southern Air Holdings, Inc. The multi-million dollar company is trying to force pilots from the three carriers into a sub-standard contract that would have a devastating impact on pilots, their families and the entire cargo industry. As a result, AAWW pilots are increasingly leaving for better opportunities, and at a time when a pilot shortage is becoming an industry-wide concern, the company’s ability to keep up with the demands of DHL, Amazon and other customers could be at risk.

Pilots from the three AAWW carriers and two other cargo airlines, ABX and Kalitta Air, recently voted with 99 percent support to strike should it be necessary. A strike would cripple DHL’s global operation as these carriers account for 70 percent of DHL’s total global flying, and AAWW is its largest contractor. A strike could also have a significant impact on  the e-retailer recently signed contracts with Atlas and ABX’s parent company, ATSG, for its Prime Air operation.

AAWW and its biggest customers, DHL and Amazon, have all seen profits rise in recent years.

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. DHL reported €59.2 billion (66.7 billion US dollars) in increased consolidated revenue this past year, with the express division – which includes the operation of AAWW – being its strongest and most profitable division. Amazon is posting record profits quarter after quarter: the second quarter of 2016 was its most profitable quarter yet, with $30.4 billion in sales and $857 million in profits. Prime, for which Atlas and ABX pilots fly, is one of Amazon’s most profitable divisions.

Despite rising profits, AAWW has been trying to force pilots into sub-standard contracts that would suppress wages and lower quality of life issues for pilots at these carriers and throughout the industry.  The current Atlas Air contract agreement states that September 9 is the amendable date – the date pilots are due a new contract. But AAWW executives have refused to bargain fairly and have drawn out negotiations for hundreds of days. AAWW recently acquired Southern Air, and in an effort to sidestep negotiations that had begun before the 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. Atlas Air pilots and AAWW recently entered into federally mediated contract negotiations.

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, which leads to dangerous fatigue.

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