Last updated: 12:04 PM ET, Wed November 23 2016

Cargo Air Strike Could Threaten Holiday Shopping

Impacting Travel | Rich Thomaselli | November 23, 2016

Cargo Air Strike Could Threaten Holiday Shopping

PHOTO via ABX Air

Planning on ordering gifts on Black Friday and CyberMonday? There could be a little problem with delivery.

Approximately 250 pilots for cargo airline ABX Air – whose major clients include Amazon.com Inc. and DHL Worldwide Express – walked off the job on Tuesday in a dispute over staffing shortages and work load. The Wilmington, Ohio-based company filed an emergency injunction with a federal court asking that the pilots be forced to continue working while the dispute is negotiated.

Don’t think it couldn’t happen and hamper holiday deliveries, because it already is.

Approximately 26 flights carrying 1.25 million pounds of cargo and merchandise were grounded by mid-day Tuesday, according to ABX Air. A decision on the temporary restraining order was deferred until Wednesday afternoon.

According to the Airline Professionals Association Teamsters Local 1224, which represents the pilots, ABX Air flies 35 daily flights for Amazon and 45 for DHL. The union said that 75 flights had been grounded between 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning and 10 p.m. Tuesday night.

The union claims that ABX Air has been severely understaffed for at least the last two years, resulting in pilots continuously being forced to work “emergency” assignments on their off time. The situation has risen to the level where the company is illegally violating its contract with pilots by not allowing them to take contractually obligated compensatory time for the forced extra work, the union said.

Striking are picketing outside of ABX Air’s headquarters in Wilmington and outside DHL’s North American hub, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). Earlier this year, pilots at ABX Air and four other cargo carriers that fly for DHL voted with 99 percent support to strike if it should become necessary.

“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,” Randy Riesbeck, a long-time ABX pilot, said in a statement provided by the union. “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?”

“Striking isn’t an easy decision and we regret the inconvenience to our customers, but when ABX Air breaks the law and stretches us so thin that our bodies and families are suffering, we have no other choice,” said ABX Air Captain Tim Jewell, who is on strike. “Our airline is facing a staffing crisis because ABX and ATSG executives knew they needed more pilots but chose to put our customers, our fellow employees and our shareholders at risk in a vain attempt to save a buck. ABX Air needs to restore the status quo and hire enough pilots so we can get the job done.”

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