Pilots who fly for Amazon Air are protesting poor working conditions and pushing for a better contract

Pilots for Atlas Air, Southern Air, and ABX Air, carriers that power Amazon Air, are set to protest poor working conditions and stalled contract negotiations on Thursday.

The group’s union, the Airline Professionals Association, said in a press release on Wednesday that the demonstrations at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport follow an investigation by Business Insider’s Rachel Premack, in which pilots said they were overworked and underpaid.

Atlas Air and Southern Air are owned by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, while ABX Air is a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group (ATSG). Their major customers include Amazon, DHL, and the armed forces, according to a union statement. Amazon Air pilots have been in contract disputes with their employers for nearly five years.

The union said that “pilots at the three carriers say they face serious operational problems that are exacerbated by labour contracts far below industry standards.”

“In order to fill customers’ needs, the companies ask pilots to fly last-minute flights around the globe; a recent survey conducted by the pilots’ union found that more than 65 per cent of respondents have been asked to fly on their days off in the last year,” the statement said.

The protest also follows a deadly crash. An Amazon Air plane called CustomAir Obsession crashed on February 23, killing all three people on board. Weeks earlier, several pilots told Business Insider they thought an accident was inevitable, and that inexperienced pilots could lead to safety problems.

Business Insider has reached out to Amazon, Atlas Air, Southern Air, and ABX Air, and will update this post if they respond.

An Atlas Air spokesperson passed along the following statement:

“Atlas values our pilots and is eager to increase their pay. Any delay in completing the next pilot contract has been a direct result of the union leadership’s refusal to adhere to its contractual commitments, which provide for an orderly and timely resolution of remaining contractual issues. Had union leaders followed the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the pilots would have had a new contract — and a raise — by now. We remain committed to working collaboratively with union leadership to complete an agreement for our pilots. Our customers play no role in labour negotiations, including pilot pay and work rules, contrary to what the Union continues to suggest. The protest event that the Union has planned, like prior such events, is an attempt to gain additional leverage in the current negotiations.”

ATSG, the parent company of ABX, passed along the following statement:

“ATSG has always been and will remain committed to the highest standards of safety throughout all of our operations. Our airlines are in compliance with the rules of their current Collective Bargaining Agreements, including work rules. Regarding staffing, ATSG has had no issues in finding qualified candidates to support its growth. Contract negotiations continue to be conducted under the auspices of the National Mediation Board, and we look forward to their satisfactory conclusion.”

Bill Flynn, Atlas Air Worldwide’s CEO, previously told Business Insider that “any alleged delay in getting to the next pilot contract has been a direct result of the union’s refusal to adhere to its contractual commitments, which provide for an orderly and timely resolution of unresolved contractual issues.”

Read more:
An Amazon Air plane crashed in February, killing all 3 people on board. Weeks earlier, several pilots said they thought an accident was inevitable.

A push to launch and quickly scale

For much of its existence, Amazon, which launched as an e-commerce “everything store” in 1996, has moved its cargo through air-cargo services from UPS, USPS, and FedEx.

Then Christmas 2013 happened. UPS failed to deliver the 7.75 million Amazon packages in its network in time for December 25. Amazon had to issue apologies and $US20 gift cards to customers.

Around that time, both UPS and FedEx told Amazon they were not interested in scaling their operations to keep up with Amazon’s skyrocketing delivery demands, Kevin Sterling, Seaport Global Securities’ managing director, said.

Amazon, determined not to let down its customers again, lessened its reliance on third-party delivery companies. In 2013, UPS delivered nearly half of Amazon’s US orders, according to Wolfe Research. That dropped to 22% in 2018.

The retailer has shifted to an in-house delivery network that includes trucks, trains, ocean freighters, and, of course, planes. Four years after it launched its in-house delivery network, Amazon has 40 767s, with plans for 10 more. Morgan Stanley analysts said Amazon could scale to 100 planes by 2025. It services 20 domestic locations, and three more Amazon Air gateways are underway in Ohio, Illinois, and Texas.

Amazon has 760 cargo flights per week, according to Marc Wulfraat, president and founder of the supply-chain consultancy MWPVL International Inc.

“Amazon is doing everything possible to keep their shipping expense low because it’s ballooning,” Wulfraat said.

More Amazon Air news:

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