Update 23 November: A judge in the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, will hold an evidentiary hearing on the case late today (Wednesday), but until he reaches a decision, the strike looks set to continue.
This morning, four days before Black Friday, the beginning of the annual consumer shopping frenzy that runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas, ABX Air pilots went on strike.
The pilots have set up picket lines at Wilmington (ILN) and Cincinnati (CVG), the air hubs through which ABX parent Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) operates for Amazon and DHL, respectively, and approximately 80 ABX flights (45 for DHL, 35 for Amazon) scheduled for today will not take off. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1224, which represents the ABX pilots, said pilots at Atlas Air, Polar Air Cargo, Southern Air, and Kalitta Air (which also fly for Amazon and/or DHL) have agreed not to cross the picket lines to cover flights grounded due to the strike.
While the background to the strike is not unusual, the strike itself is. ATSG’s airline subsidiary ABX and its pilots have been locked in unproductive negotiations for a new contract for some time, and in most similar labor situations a strike could be expected. However, since ABX’s labor relations are governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), rather than the usual Labor Relations Act, a strike would normally only be legal following a lengthy mediation process, followed by a cooling-off period. The whole point of the RLA was to prevent strikes and lockouts in certain industries critical to the US economy, unless a government-appointed mediator released the two parties.
We say a strike (or lockout) would “normally” be illegal, because, while we at Cargo Facts are not expert legal theorists, our understanding is that there is one circumstance under which it may be allowed: As long as a new contract is under negotiation, both parties are required to abide by the terms of the existing contract. In legal terms, they must maintain the contractual status quo. Should either party deviate from, or unilaterally act to make changes in, the existing contract, the other party may call a strike (or lockout) to force a return to the status quo.
In the case of today’s action by the ABX pilots, the union maintains that the strike is not to pressure the company toward a new contract, but rather to pressure it to adhere to the terms of the existing one — to return to the status quo.
For its part, ATSG maintains that it is the strike itself that has violated the status quo, and that ABX Air “will seek a court order later today to restore the status quo operating environment.”
Those interested in the claims of the two sides can easily find more information, and we will not become involved in a “he said — she said” summary here. Rather, we echo the sentiments of ATSG’s Chief Financial Officer, Quint Turner, who was quoted this morning as saying “Hopefully, sane minds will prevail and we’ll get things back to normal operations today.”