As Deutsche Post DHL prepares for its annual shareholder meeting in Germany this week, American pilots who fly worldwide for the logistics company announced the results of a recent vote to authorize their union to call a strike if necessary. Pilot support across all five of DHL’s North American network carriers – Atlas, Southern, Polar, ABX and Kalitta – is nearly unanimous. In total, 93 percent of the five-company pilot groups participated in the strike vote and 99 percent of those pilots voted in favor of a strike.
A strike could cripple DHL’s global operation as the five carriers account for approximately 70 percent of DHL’s total flying worldwide. A pilot strike could also have a significant impact on Amazon.com. In March ATSG – which owns ABX – announced an agreement with the e-retailer to operate an air cargo network serving Amazon customers in the United States. Meanwhile, Amazon.com just signed an agreement with Atlas Air to double its fleet for domestic packages.
Nearly 2,000 pilots at the five U.S. cargo carriers voted online through anonymous balloting in April and May. Pilots at Atlas, Southern, Polar, and ABX first called for the strike vote in March as concerns grew out of lingering contract negotiations with their individual carriers. Kalitta pilots authorized a strike in December 2015. The pilots are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and its airline affiliate, Teamsters Local 1224.
“This is truly an unprecedented situation where pilots across five different companies are standing up together to send a message that we refuse to be treated below industry standards,” said Captain Mike Griffith, an Atlas pilot. “By calling this strike vote, we are telling our respective companies – and DHL – that they need to listen to the pilots who keep them flying and help build their millions in profits.”
The pilots’ fight for better workplace rules has global support from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF):
“The Teamsters pilots are in the frontline of the battle against DHL as it attempts to drive down wages and working conditions through subcontracting. ” said Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary. “We stand with the pilots in this fight against a business model that is bad for workers, bad for customers and bad for good, decent business.”
Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW) owns Atlas Air, Inc., Polar Air Cargo, Inc. and Southern Air Holdings, Inc. Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) owns ABX. The two companies and DHL have all seen profits rise in recent years. DHL reported €59.2 billion (66.7 billion US dollars) in increased consolidated revenue this past year, with the express division – which includes the operations of AAWW and Southern Air– being its strongest and most profitable division. 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.
Despite these rising profits, the carriers are trying to force pilots into sub-standard contracts that would have a devastating impact by suppressing wages and lowering quality of life issues for pilots at these carriers and throughout the industry.
“Pilots at all five airlines know DHL wields tremendous influence over our airlines, and we’re turning to the company to push our airline executives to end this race to the bottom for pilots in safety, efficiency, job protection and pay,” said Captain Bryan Holmberg, a Southern Air pilot. “Pilots are the backbone of this industry, and we deserve to be treated fairly.”
Pilots at all airlines are saying they’re exhausted with extended contract negotiations and ready to come to a much-needed agreement. The Kalitta pilots have been engaged in prolonged negotiations with the company for nearly six years. Meanwhile, ATGS’s ABX pilots endured furloughs and wage and benefit concessions in 2009, when DHL abruptly cut its operations in Wilmington, Ohio. Since then, pilots have been working under the 2009 concessionary contract with ABX and have been negotiating for an amended contract for more than two years.
The Atlas pilots are currently in mediated negotiations, but pilots are increasingly concerned by AAWW’s and Atlas Air’s insistence that Atlas Air and Polar pilots stop ongoing contract negotiations and merge their contract with the Southern Air pilots’ existing bankruptcy contract – a move that would leave pilots at both airlines with a contract far below industry standards.