ERLANGER, Ky. -- A district judge ordered striking cargo pilots back to work Wednesday evening, granting ABX Air a temporary restraining order against the workers who claimed the understaffed company was overworking its employees.
Dozens of pilots responsible for cargo carrier ABX Air’s flying went on strike early Tuesday morning and refused to fly scheduled routes, including those for ABX’s major customers DHL and Amazon.
Judge Timothy S. Black wrote in the document granting ABX's restraining order that the strike would cause harm to both the company and the public interest.
"Absent an injunction, ABX, its customers, and the public will suffer immediate, irreparable harm," Black wrote. "Imagine Christmas without Amazon!"
By Wednesday, about 75 flights had been grounded, and around 1.25 million pounds of one major ABX customer's cargo had been stranded at the airport.
Gathering outside the DHL facility near the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, these pilots said they were working on forced overtime to compensate for being short-staffed, leading to fatigue, missed time with their families and as many as 8,000 emergency assignments.
"We are negotiating a new contract," said Rick Ziebarth. "But we are not striking over bargaining of the new contract. We are striking because of the status quo violations of the new contract."
Union rep tells us this means 17 missed cargo flights today at CVG alone. @WCPO
— Kristen Swilley (@KristenSwilley) November 22, 2016
These pilots worked in shifts to keep up the strike and said they were disappointed by the judge's decision.
In a news release, strike organizers claimed ABX Air "is illegally violating its contract with pilots by not allowing them to take contractually obligated compensatory time for the forced extra work. Throughout the year and now, especially during the 4th quarter, ABX has been forcing its pilots to fly flights because it had intentionally short-staffed its operations in the face of increased customer demands."
"As professional pilots, we’re committed to serving our customers with integrity, and we simply want ABX executives to treat us with the same respect," said ABX pilot Rick Zieberth in a news release. "We do not agree with the Judge’s decision to keep us from striking, as we believe the company’s actions represent a clear violation of the status quo as outlined by Railway Labor Act. Rather than spend more time in court, what we’d really like is for ABX to stop the 'emergency' assignments and take real steps to hire and retain the number of skilled pilots we need to keep up with our customers.”
Striking pilots picketed outside of ABX Air’s headquarters in Wilmington, Ohio, and outside 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,” said pilot Randy Riesbeck in a news release. “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?”
The strike at the start of peak flying season could have a significant impact on the delivery operations of ABX’s customers, which include DHL and Amazon. The carrier operates 45 flights a day for DHL. Amazon customers will also see delays and disruptions. ATSG recently signed a contract with Amazon to fly 20 Prime Air planes by 2018 and is already flying 14 aircrafts – 35 flights a day – for the e-commerce giant.
“I have flown for ABX Air for over two decades and always give my all to provide top level service to our customers. 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. “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.”
Pilots at other cargo carriers – Atlas Air, Southern Air, Kalitta Air and Polar Air – are expressing their support for the ABX pilots and are committed to not crossing the picket line, should ABX Air call on them to cover the flights grounded due to the strike.
“Pilots throughout the cargo industry stand united with the brave pilots at ABX Air who are standing up for fair and safe standards for all cargo pilots,” said Daniel C. Wells, an Atlas Air captain and president of Teamsters Local 1224. “ABX Air executives need to stop trying to force ABX pilots to make up for their own mismanagement and get serious about hiring enough pilots to serve their customers.”
The last pilot strike in the United States was in 2010 when Spirit Air pilots walked off the job.