(Adds aviation expert comment, details of Amazon air expansion)
By Nick Carey
CHICAGO Nov 22 Pilots at ABX Air, an express
cargo airline that serves online retailer Amazon.com Inc
and DHL Express, went on strike on Tuesday, a critical
time for retailers with the holiday shopping season about to
kick into high gear.
Some 250 pilots, who are represented by the Teamsters union,
went on strike in the early morning, affecting around 75
flights, mostly for Amazon and DHL, a unit of Deutsche Post AG
Pilots went on strike because ABX, owned by Air Transport
Services Group Inc, has violated its contract by asking
them to work emergency hours over the last two years because of
a staffing shortage, then failed to grant them compensatory time
off or allow pilots to take earned vacations, the union said.
"Our pilots are striking so that we can have the status quo
of our contract restored, and we would like that to be in the
next minute so we can return to serving our customers," said Tim
Jewell, a pilot and secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 1224,
which represents ABX pilots. "But if the company chooses not to
do that our members are prepared to continue striking."
Air Transport Services Group said in a statement that ABX
was taking multiple steps to tackle an "illegal work stoppage"
including seeking a court order to get pilots back to work.
"We expect the court will uphold our position that the
actions taken by the union to refuse work assignments is not
legal, and the issues involved constitute a minor dispute to be
resolved via arbitration under terms of our current labor
agreements," ABX Air President John Starkovich said in a
The strike comes just ahead of Cyber Monday, which is the
biggest day of the year for internet shopping and is expected to
break records this year.
Amazon has contracts with the major U.S. package delivery
companies United Parcel Service Inc and FedEx Corp
, giving it alternatives to ABX.
In May, Amazon also entered into a long-term agreement with
Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc under which the
company would provide cargo services to the online retailer
using 20 Boeing Co 767-300 freighters.
"We work with a variety of carriers and are confident in our
ability to serve customers," Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman
DHL, however, said the strike had affected deliveries of
goods into the United States.
"Due to a work stoppage affecting our airline partners,
inbound deliveries to portions of the Americas will be delayed
today," the company said in a statement. "We are continuing to
monitor the situation."
Matt Barton, an aviation industry economist with FlightPath
Economics, said he expects the strike will be short, so will
only cause a "relatively minor shortage" for Amazon.
But he said the long-term problem is a nationwide shortage
of pilots, as older pilots retire and too few step up to replace
them, which portends more strikes in the coming years.
"Call it a canary in the coal mine or a shot across the bow,
but this is happening now," Barton said. "We are going to see
pilot wages rise and problems like this for the next 10 to 15
(Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Chicago and Ankit
Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)