By Imani Moise
Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. accused its unionized pilots of intentionally slowing down work, causing "widespread and significant" flight delays, in the latest labor dispute between a union and an air-cargo carrier.
The company, whose airline subsidiaries deliver cargo for United Parcel Service Inc., Deutsche Post AG's DHL, FedEx Corp. and Amazon.com Inc., is seeking a preliminary injunction to get the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to end what it calls an illegal work slowdown aimed at disrupting its business. The corporate parent of Atlas Air and Polar Air Cargo Worldwide said in prepared remarks the union is engaging in a coordinated attempt to disrupt service to gain an edge during ongoing contract negotiations.
In a federal complaint filed Monday, Atlas claimed the union has encouraged such acts as calling in sick at the last minute, refusing to work citing fatigue and refusing to work overtime. The complaint said the amount of last-minute sick calls jumped to 24% between October 1, 2016, and last Wednesday, compared with 14% during the same period a year earlier.
The company said tactics like these contributed to an 83% surge in flight delays over six hours since December.
The dispute may stoke concerns about a potential labor impasse at the start of peak holiday shipping season. Last year, an airline operated by rival Atlas rival Air Transport Services Group Inc., successfully got a federal judge to halt a pilot strike after the work stoppage threatened to disrupt deliveries during the critical holiday season.
Unionized aircraft mechanics at UPS are also threatening to strike if contract negotiations do not come to a close soon.
"We value our commitment to our customers and the passengers and cargo entrusted to us," said Atlas Air Worldwide Chief Executive William J. Flynn in a statement. "We must protect the service quality we provide to our customers."
A union representative said that while the complaint is being reviewed, an initial assessment suggests "it is part of the company's ongoing efforts to abdicate responsibility for its failures and refusal to address the long-expected decline in global pilot supply."
"Meanwhile, Atlas has intentionally expanded its flying operations, all while pretending it has the staffing capacity to do so," said Daniel Wells, president of the Airline Professionals Association Teamsters Local 1224. "It should come as no surprise therefore that Atlas's operations are now subject to criticism and scrutiny from its customers and the public."
Airlines and railroads fall under the Railway Labor Act, which makes it more difficult for unionized workers to strike. Under that law, contracts don't expire, and federal mediation is mandated if the two sides can't come to an agreement. The mediators also can call for a recess in negotiations if the two sides reach a stalemate.
Shares in Atlas Air, up 27% so far this year, slipped 2.4% to $66 during Monday trading.
Write to Imani Moise at firstname.lastname@example.org