A federal judge on the day before Thanksgiving ordered striking airline cargo pilots to return to work.
The pilots, members of the Airline Pilots Professional Association, Teamsters Local 1224, walked off the job on November 22 at ABX Air, a cargo airline whose main customers are DHL Worldwide Express and Amazon.
The workers voted almost unanimously in May to authorize a strike against ABX.
The pilots went on strike to protest under staffing at the company and the company’s violation of the collective bargaining agreement.
The collective bargaining agreement requires pilots to be on call during off days to make so-called emergency flights when no on-duty crews are available.
But the union says that under staffing has resulted in overuse of emergency flights.
“To date in 2016, pilots have been scheduled to cover over 8000 emergency assignment days on days they should have had off,” said the union in its media release about the strike.
As a result of under staffing at ABX, pilots (are) continuously being forced to work ’emergency’ assignments on their off time,” states the release.
Taking away pilots’ off time, according to the union, is a violation of collective bargaining agreement that allows pilots to receive compensatory days off after they have worked six emergency flights in a year.
Cincinnati.com reports that as of July, 59 percent of ABX pilots and 48 percent of its first officers had worked at least six emergency flights.
The lack of off time is taking its toll on ABX’s pilots and their families.
“I take my job as a pilot seriously, and I’m committed to serving ABX Air and our customers, but I’m also a father of a little girl and help care for my aging mother,” said Randy Riesbeck, a long-time ABX pilot. “On numerous occasions I have had to miss my daughter’s school events and previously scheduled medical appointments for my mother, all because ABX Air emergency assigned me to work on a day I had scheduled off. How am I supposed to explain to my daughter why I wasn’t there to see her grow up? How do I explain to my mother that I can’t take her to the doctor?”
Tim Jewell, a pilot who has worked for ABX for 20 years, said that the company’s under staffing and over reliance on emergency flights “stretches us so thin that our bodies and families are suffering.”
“ABX Air needs to restore the status quo and hire enough pilots so we can get the job done,” continued Jewell.
ABX’s under staffing problems go back to the Great Recession when the business slump caused layoffs at the company.
The laid off pilots were supposed to be called back to work when business picked up.
Eventually business did pick up and in fact began to boom after ABX reached a deal to fly cargo for Amazon.
ABX now makes 35 flights a day for Amazon.
But instead of calling back the furloughed pilots, ABX “extinguished” their recall rights and began trying to hire new lower paid pilots to take their place, said the union.
But the low pay made it difficult to attract new pilots leaving the company short staffed.
The strike threatened to disrupt Christmas season deliveries especially those that come from Amazon, and ABX went to court seeking a temporary restraining order to force pilots back to work.
The union argued that ABX’s refusal to allow pilots to take compensatory leave they earned was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, which made the strike legal under the Railway Labor Act, which regulates labor relations in the rail and airline industries.
But District Judge Timothy Black disagreed. He said that the disagreement between the union and company was a “minor dispute” over the contract’s interpretation that should be resolved by arbitration and ordered an immediate end to the strike.
The fact that ABX carried cargo for Amazon also entered into Black’s decision.
“Imagine Christmas without Amazon!” wrote Black in his decision.
Before the strike, the union had been trying to address under staffing and other issues through collective bargaining, but those negotiations have been going on for two years with no end in sight.
The union said that the pilots would return to work but would continue to fight for adequate staffing and an end to the company’s contract violations.