Yesterday, a labor strike among 250 cargo airline pilots working at ABX Air, a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) grounded more than 75 flights contracted for both Amazon and DHL Worldwide Express. The move came just before the start of busy Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday shopping events.
As we pen this posting, reports indicate that just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black granted a temporary restraining order against the strike involving the pilots. That would allow for a temporary reprieve in the labor action if the pilots adhere to this order and continue negotiations over grievances.
Readers will recall that last year, Amazon contracted with ATSG to lease a total of 20 Boeing 767 air freighter aircraft to move Amazon Prime shipments from various customer fulfillment centers across the U.S. and other regions. A posting from Cincinnati.com, noting court documents indicates that ABX is a contractor to DHL, which employs 2,400 at its North American hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron. It operates about 35 flights a day for Amazon and 45 for DHL. Grounded flights may have affected as many as 20,000 individual customers for each aircraft affected.
Striking pilots claimed that ABX’s flight schedule demands have forced pilots to work an excessive number of emergency assignments because of limited flight staff, with little time for rest. Obviously, the timing of the work action, coming just before the busiest period of the year, is added attention mechanism.
Amazon officials have stressed to business media that their ability to do business is not beholden to a single cargo carrier. Reports from The Wall Street Journal and other publications indicate that the backup plan includes reliance on both FedEx and UPS air assets. But, in the case of UPS, airline maintenance workers who maintain UPS’s fleet of aircraft have announced that they have authorized a labor strike affecting the global parcel carrier after contract talks remained deadlocked over the issue of health-care benefits. That situation may come to a head after the ATSG action, as both actions involve chapters of the Teamsters labor union.
All of these developments are obviously disconcerting to B2C providers, online and traditional retailers. The air cargo industry has a long history of labor concerns given the constant demands for longer overnight flights and constrained staffing levels. It would now seem that the industry has entered a period of increased assertiveness among employees to include labor actions to gain maximum action.
Supply chain transportation and logistics teams should continue to monitor ongoing developments since each of these actions, if they continue, will obviously have cascading effects. Rest-up for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving holiday since the coming days look to be challenging.