BREAKING NEWS – UPDATED: Pilots and Atlas Air Head for Federal Mediated Contract Negotiations
The United States government has accepted the request of the union representing over 1,300 pilots flying for Atlas Air, Inc. and Polar Air Cargo to mediate contract negotiations with the airlines.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Teamsters Airline Division and APA Teamsters Local 1224, filed for mediation with the National Mediation Board (NMB) recently after Atlas Air, according to a Teamsters statement, refused to engage in any further legally-mandated negotiations.
The NMB is the federal agency that facilitates labor-management relations in the aviation and railroad industries.
Atlas Air has a different take on the proceedings. “We believe the request for mediation is premature as the negotiation process has just begun,” said company spokesperson Bonnie Lewis Rodney. “The NMB is currently investigating how to best move forward and will let the parties know what it concludes.”
“Pilots are fed up with Atlas and AAWW’s game playing and backroom corporate maneuvering to try to deny us basic workplace protections like the much-needed time to rest between international flights,” said Captain Mike Griffith, an Atlas pilot and communications chairman of APA Teamsters Local 1224. “We believe the federal government intervening will make sure they work with us to come to a fair contract agreement that is up to cargo industry standards.”
But Rodney contends that the union has no right to strike regardless of any strike vote. “The Atlas and Southern collective bargaining agreements provide that upon a merger, if the parties cannot reach a joint contract, any open issues are resolved through an orderly resolution process,” she said.
After its recent acquisition of Southern Air Holdings, Inc. (SAI), AAWW became affiliated with two additional carriers, Southern Air Inc., and Florida West International Airways. AAWW and Atlas Air have insisted that Atlas Air pilots stop ongoing contract negotiations and merge their contract with the Southern Air pilots’ existing contract. According to the Teamsters, this would suppress wages and lower quality of life issues for pilots at Atlas Air and Polar Air Cargo, and could ultimately ripple throughout the industry.
But the airlines say that “explicit processes are delineated in the respective collective bargaining agreements for negotiating a joint collective bargaining agreement” in the event of a merger, according to Rodney.
The Southern Air contract was negotiated several years ago while Southern Air was in bankruptcy and contains wage, benefit and job protections that fall far below cargo industry standards, the union says. The current Atlas Air contract is also below industry standards, according to the union. A comparison study conducted by Teamsters Local 1224 showed that 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.
AAWW’s $100 million cash acquisition this year of financially-troubled SAI was touted by the company as a positive move for both pilots and the long-term success of AAWW as the company attempts to establish its position as a leader in the cargo and express delivery markets. But the union says that AAWW wants wage concessions from Atlas Air pilots to help pay for the acquisition.
“The Southern acquisition is very good for Atlas and Southern pilots,” countered Rodney. “As the merger details were initially announced, the international leadership as well as that of Local 1224 recognized the benefits of this merger by endorsing the transaction.”
Atlas Air and Polar Air both fly under contract for DHL Express. DHL owns 49 percent of AAWW’s Polar Air Cargo and is estimated to account for more than 50 percent of Atlas Air’s business. DHL is also the exclusive customer of AAWW’s newly acquired Southern Air, Inc. Teamsters Local 1224 has raised questions regarding DHL’s behind-the-scenes role in AAWW and SAI’s affairs and has asked the Department of Transportation to intervene.
As for the impending federal mediation, Rodney said, “While we continue to believe this request is early, we will cooperate fully with the process.”