Pilots who fly for Amazon Air are protesting poor working conditions and pushing for a better contract

Pilots for Atlas Air, Southern Air, and ABX Air, carriers that power Amazon Air, are set to protest poor working conditions and stalled contract negotiations on Thursday.

The group's union, the Airline Professionals Association, said in a press release on Wednesday that the demonstrations at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport follow an investigation by Business Insider's Rachel Premack, in which pilots said they were overworked and underpaid.

Atlas Air and Southern Air are owned by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, while ABX Air is a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group (ATSG). Their major customers include Amazon, DHL, and the armed forces, according to a union statement. Amazon Air pilots have been in contract disputes with their employers for nearly five years. 

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The union said that "pilots at the three carriers say they face serious operational problems that are exacerbated by labor contracts far below industry standards."

"In order to fill customers' needs, the companies ask pilots to fly last-minute flights around the globe; a recent survey conducted by the pilots' union found that more than 65 percent of respondents have been asked to fly on their days off in the last year," the statement said.

Business Insider has reached out to Amazon, Atlas Air, Southern Air, and ABX Air, and will update this post if they respond.

Bill Flynn, Atlas Air Worldwide's CEO, previously told Business Insider that "any alleged delay in getting to the next pilot contract has been a direct result of the union's refusal to adhere to its contractual commitments, which provide for an orderly and timely resolution of unresolved contractual issues."

A push to launch and quickly scale

For much of its existence, Amazon, which launched as an e-commerce "everything store" in 1996, has moved its cargo through air-cargo services from UPS, USPS, and FedEx.

Then Christmas 2013 happened. UPS failed to deliver the 7.75 million Amazon packages in its network in time for December 25. Amazon had to issue apologies and $20 gift cards to customers.

Around that time, both UPS and FedEx told Amazon they were not interested in scaling their operations to keep up with Amazon's skyrocketing delivery demands, Kevin Sterling, Seaport Global Securities' managing director, said.

Amazon, determined not to let down its customers again, lessened its reliance on third-party delivery companies. In 2013, UPS delivered nearly half of Amazon's US orders, according to Wolfe Research. That dropped to 22% in 2018.

The retailer has shifted to an in-house delivery network that includes trucks, trains, ocean freighters, and, of course, planes. Four years after it launched its in-house delivery network, Amazon has 40 767s, with plans for 10 more. Morgan Stanley analysts said Amazon could scale to 100 planes by 2025. It services 20 domestic locations, and three more Amazon Air gateways are underway in Ohio, Illinois, and Texas.

Amazon has 760 cargo flights per week, according to Marc Wulfraat, president and founder of the supply-chain consultancy MWPVL International Inc.

"Amazon is doing everything possible to keep their shipping expense low because it's ballooning," Wulfraat said.

More from Business Insider:  
Pilots who fly for Amazon are underpaid and overworked, and it may doom the e-commerce behemoth's aspirations to edge out FedEx and UPS 
Pilots who fly for Amazon Air earn 33% less than their colleagues at UPS and FedEx for flying the exact same planes 
'It's a ticking time bomb': A pilot for one of Amazon Air's contract airlines said the company overworks its pilots

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