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Amazon won’t resume work with one of its airlines until it’s sure the pilots won’t strike again

The downside of leasing planes but not flying them yourself.

Amazon Branded Cargo Plane Flies in Seattle Seafair's Airshow Stephen Brashear / Getty
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

A week after unhappy pilots who fly cargo planes for Amazon were forced by a judge to end their strike, the online retailer has still not resumed shipping packages with the cargo airliner, one of the pilots told Recode.

And it sounds like Amazon won’t do so until it is confident the pilots won’t strike again.

“We rebalanced capacity across our carrier partners and we are leaving the adjustments in place until we are certain there will be no further disruptions,” an Amazon spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday evening.

The cargo airline in question, ABX Air, is one of several Amazon has contracted in the last year to operate a total of 40 planes on Amazon’s behalf. The goal, Amazon has said, is to make sure it has enough shipping capacity to handle the annual increases in demand it is seeing, especially during the fourth-quarter holiday season. Amazon is also starting to build out its own transportation network because it believes it will lead to shipping savings over time.

Recode's "future of commerce" conference is in SF on Dec. 6

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But taking more control over the movement of packages after they leave an Amazon warehouse obviously comes with downsides, especially in a case like this where Amazon is leasing the planes but not hiring its own pilots to fly them. Amazon has said the current disruption has not affected customers, but one could imagine it increasing costs for the quarter because of the last-minute nature of the change of plans.

About 250 ABX pilots, who belong to a local Teamsters union in Ohio, first went on strike before Thanksgiving because of what they say is an understaffing crisis resulting in 8,000 emergency flights for customers like Amazon and DHL this year that upended some of their lives. (Amazon, for its part, is notoriously anti-union.)

The steady flow of emergency flights, “exacerbated” by bringing Amazon on as a client, made it difficult for pilots to use the comp days they receive in exchange for working an emergency flight on a day off, according to ABX Air pilot and union rep Tim Jewell. The Amazon work has also led to pilots being forced to change between day and night shifts more often than is allowed under their contract, Jewell said.

On Nov. 23, a judge issued a two-week, temporary restraining order that forced the pilots back to work and to negotiate with the airline while working. The two sides have not yet come to a resolution, and it’s unclear if the pilots will attempt to strike again at the end of the restraining order window.

“We hope very much to resolve it and not have to go down that road,” Jewell told Recode. “We hope that this period here woke up the company enough that they’re willing to work with us to mutually come to an agreement to move forward.”

A spokesman for ABX Air’s parent company says they expect “these minor disputes to be resolved without further work stoppages.”

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