Atlas pilots vow to fight on despite appeals court setback

Unions representing the pilots of Atlas Air and Polar Air Cargo have vowed to petition for a rehearing after a US appeals court ruled in favour of the aircraft operator over a work slowdown.

Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a Federal Court ruling that ordered Atlas Air pilots to end a work slowdown.

The Federal Court had ruled that pilots should end slowdown practices such as leaving the gate on time – when it was possible for them to leave early – and calling in sick on short notice in order to pressure Atlas during negotiations over a new contract.

The Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224 said that after reviewing the decision in detail it would fight on.

“We disagree with the court’s decision and plan to promptly petition for a rehearing,” said Capt. Daniel Wells, Atlas Air pilot and President of Teamsters Local 1224.

“[Parent company] Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW) brought this suit originally to deflect attention and blame away from its incompetent management of the airline and the supposed merger between Southern and Atlas Air pilots — which is the real cause of the operational failures seen by our customers.

“It’s unfortunate that AAWW is spending its time suing its employees instead of working with them to improve conditions so we attract the skilled talent we need to sustain our operation and deliver for clients into the future.

“Our pilot group has been speaking out against the company’s heavy-handed and outdated practices because we know that chronic mismanagement, a pilot shortage, and poor working conditions are what’s threatening our long-term operation and will continue doing everything we can to get Atlas back on track.”

Edward Gleason, general counsel at APA Teamsters Local 1224, added: “We are both surprised and deeply disappointed by the court’s decision. The court has affirmed a status quo injunction without ever identifying the status quo that the union is said to have violated.

“That is the same fundamental mistake that the district court made, and it is one that we believe warrants reconsideration and reversal by the court.  We therefore fully anticipate filing a petition for rehearing along with a petition for rehearing en banc.”

The pilots’ unions had argued that the contract negotiations should have been classed as a minor dispute, which would have allowed them to carry out work slowdowns, while Atlas said that it was a major dispute, which curtails the unions’ ability to pursue slowdowns until negotiations are complete.

The appeals court also found in favour of Atlas in other arguments made by the unions over their right to work slow.

The Court of Appeals also affirmed the District Court’s decision that the [unions] must maintain the status quo under the Railway Labor Act and must continue to take affirmative action to prevent and to refrain from any form of interference with the Company’s operations, Atlas said.

The dispute comes as Atlas Air Worldwide is hoping to bring pilots from Southern Air and Atlas Air onto the same joint Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) following its takeover of Southern in 2016.

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