HEBRON, Kentucky - The fast-growing cargo hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport could be in for a major disruption this summer thanks to a labor dispute that’s been simmering for months between the Teamsters union and companies that operate about 80 DHL flights a day at CVG Airport.
APA Teamsters Local 1224 announced Wednesday that it will schedule a strike authorization vote that could ultimately pull about 1,500 pilots out of the cockpits at DHL contractors Atlas Air, Polar Air and Southern Air. About 1,000 of those pilots are based in Cincinnati or fly regularly out of the CVG Airport. according to the union. The flights support 2,500 jobs at the DHL hub in Hebron, Kentucky.
“We don’t want to go on strike,” said Local 1224 President Dan Wells. “It’s very disruptive (but) we’re tired of the company undermining the rights of our members.”
A strike-authorization vote is typically the first of several steps that can lead to a strike. Pilots are required by the Railway Labor Act to pursue mediation or arbitration before union members walk off the job. But Wells said there are exceptions to those rules. And he thinks DHL affiliates are taking steps that could hasten a strike – making it possible by this summer.
“It could be as little as 30 days from now” when a strike-authorization vote takes place, Wells said. After that, “if they try to force something that is a major dispute, we could go out on strike.”
A DHL spokeswoman said the company is “monitoring the situation,” but "we do not currently anticipate any impact on our operations from these ongoing discussions.”
Wells said the “major dispute” that could trigger a strike involves Atlas Air’s pending acquisition of Southern Air Holdings, a deal that’s expected to close in the next few months. Wells said both companies pay their pilots about 40 percent less than those who work at UPS and FedEx. The union has been trying to renegotiate those terms, but it fears the company will use the acquisition to force pilots into an “amalgamated” contract that benefits the company and harms pilots.
“We’ll never agree to the program that want,” Wells said. “It’s greatly damaging our pilots’ wages and ability to improve their working conditions.”
Atlas Air CEO William Flynn told analysts in February that the company will gain “relatively small” cost savings from the purchase of Southern Air, but he confirmed that a piece of that cost savings would come from combining labor contracts “shortly after we close” the transaction.
“Our goal is to merge Southern into Atlas,” Flynn said. “We will amalgamate Southern into Atlas and at the end of that process there will be one collective bargaining agreement and all pilots will be Atlas pilots.”
Wells said those comments convinced union leaders to seek a strike authorization from its members.
“He sought no agreement from us to do that,” Wells said. “He has no right to do that.”
Atlas Air declined to answer specific questions about the labor dispute, but issued this statement:
“The Southern Air acquisition is very good for Atlas Air and Southern Air pilots. The transaction will provide increased pay, more job security and growth opportunities for all of our pilots. In fact, Local 1224’s leadership recognized these benefits by endorsing the transaction when it was announced.”