Economy

Pilots who work for Amazon and DHL set to protest outside White House

A Boeing 767, an Amazon.com "Prime Air" cargo plane is parked on display Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, in a Boeing hangar in Seattle. Amazon unveiled its first branded cargo plane Thursday, one of 40 jetliners that will make up Amazon's own air transportation network of 40 Boeing jets leased from Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings and Air Transport Services Group Inc., which will operate the air cargo network.
A Boeing 767, an Amazon.com "Prime Air" cargo plane is parked on display Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, in a Boeing hangar in Seattle. Amazon unveiled its first branded cargo plane Thursday, one of 40 jetliners that will make up Amazon's own air transportation network of 40 Boeing jets leased from Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings and Air Transport Services Group Inc., which will operate the air cargo network. AP

A group of pilots who ship packages for Amazon and DHL will protest outside the White House in a bid to get Donald Trump’s attention in a long-running labor dispute.

A few dozen pilots who work for Atlas Air, a New York-based cargo airline with a hub in Miami, will stage a protest on Wednesday amid disagreements on working conditions between pilots and some of the country’s largest shipping companies.

The pilots argue Atlas and four other cargo airlines have an outsized portion of their business with Amazon and DHL, resulting in the shipping companies essentially controlling the work environment for pilots.

“DHL is trying to depress labor prices for pilots in the U.S., which doesn’t keep levels of safety and experience high,” said Michael Griffith, an Atlas Air pilot who is organizing the protest with the Airline Professionals Association.

Griffith said Atlas pilots hired from smaller regional airlines are being asked to fly 747s, a larger airplane that requires more experience to fly safely. The pilots are also worried about retention. Competitors like FedEx and UPS have hired experienced Atlas pilots at high rates during the labor dispute.

“Five of the new hire class at FedEx yesterday were former Atlas pilots,” Griffith said. “The quality of pilots we have is going out the door.”

As part of their protest, the pilots will send a letter to President Trump urging the White House to support higher pay and better working conditions for pilots.

“Faced with substandard pay and benefits, many long-time pilots at our carriers are leaving for better opportunities, while we struggle to recruit the staff needed to get the job done,” the letter said. “These issues have gotten so bad that pilots at one of our carriers went on strike last year. Now, DHL’s model to squeeze U.S. pilots is spreading. Following the German company’s lead, Amazon hired our airlines to service its new Prime Air delivery operation at the low standards set by DHL, rather than those set by UPS and FedEx, great U.S. companies that provide hundreds of thousands of good jobs for Americans.”

About 250 pilots represented by the Airline Professionals Association from ABX Air were blocked from striking by a federal judge in November after a judge ruled it was in the public’s interest to get holiday packages on time. ABX also conducts a large share of its business with Amazon and DHL, and pilots from ABX, Polar Air, Southern Air and Kalitta Air will join tomorrow’s protest.

“Imagine Christmas without Amazon,” U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black wrote in his ruling.

Federal law makes it difficult for airline workers to strike, and the Atlas Air pilots say Amazon’s history of brutal working conditions in its warehouses doesn’t bode well for the company’s treatment of pilots in the future.

“Atlas has left us at the negotiating table as DHL and Amazon figure more and more into it,” Griffith said. “We need to shine a light about what’s going on in these two businesses for pilots and their families and let people know that when you hit that Amazon Prime button, they should think they are doing something that depresses pilots’ wages.”

President Trump has shown a willingness to listen to union leaders during his first months in office, although the White House has not taken a public position in the dispute.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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