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  March 30th, 2016 | Written by

Pilots at Atlas and Southern Air Holdings Announce Strike Vote

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  • Increased influence of DHL cited as Atlas, Polar, Southern, and Florida West pilots gear up for possible strike.
  • Since 2014, Southern Air has operated exclusively for DHL, while DHL holds a 49 percent equity stake in Polar Air.
  • If Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings acquires Southern Air Holdings, its revenues related to DHL will rise to 27 percent.

Pilots at Atlas Air, Polar Air, Southern Air, and Florida West, members of APA Teamsters Local 1224, will vote to authorize their union to call a strike should it become necessary.

The pilots are raising concerns about their contracts, and particularly increasing foreign control of the companies.

The background involves the proposed acquisition by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW) of Southern Air Holdings, Inc. AAWW is the parent company of Atlas Air and Polar Air while SAI operates Southern Air and Florida Air.  Both of the holding companies have relationships with Deutsche Post DHL, a global shipping and logistics company based in Germany, and, the pilots claim, the German company has a substantial influence over these two holding companies and their airlines.

Since 2014, SAI’s Southern Air has operated exclusively for DHL – even co-branding its planes. DHL also provides AAWW with financial and operational synergies and holds a 49 percent equity stake in Polar Air. If AAWW acquires SAI, its expected revenue related to DHL will rise to 27 percent, “putting the two American companies further under the control of a foreign entity,” according to a Teamsters statement.

The union says AAWW and its subsidiary carriers, Atlas Air and Polar Air, are trying to force pilots at both AAWW and SAI into an amalgamated contract that would suppress wages and lower the quality of life for pilots at the two companies. AAWW’s Atlas/Polar pilots have been working since the beginning of the year to amend their collective bargaining agreement.  Their current contract is “grossly below industry standards,” according to the union. Pilots at Southern Air sacrificed pay and workplace standards during a 2012 bankruptcy. They, too, have entered into contract negotiations to amend their contract.

“Pilots are the backbone of the logistics industry, and DHL customers and shareholders should be concerned about the company’s disregard for experienced pilots,” said Robert Kirchner, an Atlas pilot and Executive Council Chairman of APA Teamsters Local 1224.  “Pilots have sacrificed to help DHL contracted airlines succeed. We are helping DHL grow its business in the United States and building profits for all companies involved.  A strike is a last resort, but our families are not going to stand by while this German company tries to further undermine our profession and American labor standards throughout the industry.”

The union claims DHL is a highly profitable company but is trying to use its influence to drive down standards for American cargo pilots and undermine their job security.

“Pilots, as well as the communities where they live, are gravely concerned about the influence that DHL has over these two airlines and the possible overreach in its U.S. operations,” said Kirchner. “As major equity partners and the sole customer for Southern Air, DHL’s reach may be against legal regulations that require U.S. cargo airlines to show U.S. citizenship of company owners and operations. Additionally, the growing influence of DHL is concerning as the company has a record of closing bases, upending families and communities in the process.” In 2008, the company announced laid off 8,000 workers in a single town, Wilmington, Ohio, and “devastated the community and its local businesses,” said Kirchner.

According to a comparison conducted by the union representing the pilots, AAWW’s Atlas/Polar pilots flying for DHL are paid considerably less and work far more than pilots who fly for American couriers, such as UPS or FedEx.

“AAWW and SAI are thriving with the growing business from DHL, but pilots are working without the job security their families need and deserve,” said Atlas pilot Captain Mike Griffith, who has flown for the airline for 18 years. “There is no reason why a U.S. pilot flying over the same routes for a foreign shipping company should be paid less than a pilot working for UPS or FedEx.”