Judge’s decision ends ABX pilot strike

ABX is back in the air, moving packages for Amazon and DHL

is back in the air, moving packages for and

Late yesterday, US District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled that a strike by pilots at Air was not permissible, and that the pilots must return to work.

While this is good news for US consumers planning to shop online with over the Thanksgiving holiday, and for businesses planning to ship packages to or from the US with Express, it does not, in itself, resolve the problem at (parent of ).

As we said in our original discussion when the strike began two days ago, relations at Air (and At Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings and Kalitta Air, which face similar pilot unrest) are governed by the Railway Act, rather than the more usual Relations Act. During negotiations for a new contract, strikes (or lockouts) are allowed under only two circumstances:

  • If the parties are unable to agree to terms of a new contract themselves, they must continue to negotiate under mediation while abiding by the terms of the existing contract. Only if the government-appointed mediator cannot lead them to an agreement, and even then, only following a “cooling-off” period may a strike or lockout take place.
  • If during negotiations, either party deviates from, or unilaterally acts to make changes in, the existing contract, the other party may call a strike (or lockout) to force a return to the contractual status quo.

It was under this second circumstance that the International Brotherhood of , Local 1224, which represents the pilots, felt a strike was justified. That is, that the strike was not called as a tactic to pressure the company into a new contract, but rather to pressure it to adhere to the terms of the existing one – to return to the status quo.

, on the other hand, felt that it was the strike that was a violation of the status quo, and asked the court to rule it illegal.

In this case, the judge agreed with the company, ruling that the work-scheduling issues cited by the union were not a deviation from the contractual status quo, but rather what is called a “minor dispute” which the parties must resolve through negotiation, mediated negotiation, or arbitration.

So, for now, Air is back in the skies, flying some eighty flights per day for and .

But the underlying contractual dispute has not been resolved, and behind that dispute lies the larger issue of a worsening pilot shortage in the US – an issue that we will address next week.

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