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Atlas Air's pilots ordered by court to accept arbitrated contract process

AN arbitrator has denied the request by Atlas Air pilots to negotiate their next contract and instead imposed an arbitrated contract process, resulting in a legal victory for Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc

Atlas Air's pilots ordered by court to accept arbitrated contract process

AN arbitrator has denied the request by Atlas Air pilots to negotiate their next contract and instead imposed an arbitrated contract process, resulting in a legal victory for Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc

29 August 2019 - 19:00

AN arbitrator has denied the request by Atlas Air pilots to negotiate their next contract and instead imposed an arbitrated contract process, resulting in a legal victory for Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc.

The air cargo carrier earlier said the long-stalled talks could move forwards once its pilots submitted a merged seniority list of pilots at Atlas and at Southern Air, a cargo carrier which Atlas acquired in early 2016 but has not yet been integrated. The two airlines operate separately under their respective federal airworthiness certificates, reported New York's FreightWaves.



'The reality is that the union leaders have significant control over the timing of the new contract for our pilots,' the company said in a statement.



'In connection with Atlas Air's pending merger with Southern Air, the union need only tender the company an integrated seniority list, which would start the clock on a contractually defined period of bargaining after which any unresolved issues would be submitted' for arbitration.



Teamsters union Local 1224, which represents 1,800 Atlas pilots, said it would be happy to furnish a merged list once pilots vote on and ratify a contract proposal and the two federal airworthiness certificates are combined. Southern has 300 pilots.



In an August 23 phone interview, Captain Robert Kirchner, who heads the council representing Atlas' pilots, said producing merged seniority lists prior to a contract being voted on and ratified gives Atlas too much leverage over the livelihoods of the combined pilot workforces.



Arbitrated settlements rarely end well for airline labour because they result in sub-standard agreements, Mr Kirchner said. The pilots have said they are paid 33 per cent less than pilots at carriers like FedEx Corp flying the same equipment.



Mr Kirchner also expressed concern that discussions could now drag on for an indefinite period. Under the current contract, the two sides have nine months to bring a settlement forwards for arbitration, he said. If that fails to occur, the dispute is turned over to another arbitrator, who would not be operating under a timetable or deadline. Two peak shipping seasons - 2019 and 2020 - could pass before a contract is arbitrated and takes effect, he said.



Atlas posted subpar second-quarter results that it blamed in part on labour-related disruptions. A federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision enjoining the pilots from engaging in disruptions such as taking excessive sick days and refusing to work overtime, actions that management said were undermining its operations.



Pilots have charged Atlas with deliberately understaffing its pilot rolls, overworking and underpaying its crews, and failing to understand the changes in flying demands triggered by e-commerce delivery requirements.



Atlas, which has spent most of its history flying heavy international cargoes for airlines, freight forwarders and big shippers, allocates 20 per cent of its 127-plane fleet to Amazon Air, a unit of e-commerce giant Amazon.com.



In an August 26 statement, the union local said it 'will pursue all remaining legal options to avoid a contract that is resolved by an arbitrator and that robs pilots of their right to vote on it and ratify as needed.'



Noting that the impasse, which has lasted more than three years, is taking its toll on the pilots, the company's operations and finances, and investors' patience, the union local said Atlas must do right by all invested parties - current pilots, future pilots and investors - and settle a fair, industry-standard contract now.


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