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Amazon package problems? Pilots who fly the planes say holiday delays likely

December 16, 2016 10:50 AM
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(Bloomberg)—Union pilots who fly products for Amazon.com Inc. are taking concerns about pay, working conditions and staffing shortages directly to online shoppers with a digital marketing blitz that suggests the internet retailer may struggle to deliver holiday gifts on time.

The union is running advertisements on Facebook and Google on Friday, targeting Amazon customers. If clicked on, the ads send people to the website canamazondeliver.com, paid for by the Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224.

"This holiday season, Amazon customers may want to think twice before ordering last-minute deliveries," the website said. Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide.

The ad campaign could haunt Amazon even after a federal judge last month ordered striking pilots back to work on the second day of a walkout. Even a minor disruption this time of year can be costly. Online spending in November and December will increase 11% this year to $91.6 billion, according to Adobe Systems Inc. Amazon has to increase capacity to grab as big a slice of this spending as possible.

At issue are contract negotiations with about 1,650 teamster pilots and their employers—Air Transport Services Group Inc. and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. The companies both agreed this year to fly planes stuffed with Amazon inventory.

This is Amazon’s first holiday season since it unveiled Amazon Prime Air, a fleet of about 40 planes that reduce its dependence on FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. The labor issues involving its contract partners signal the initiative is off to a rocky start.

The contracted airlines "don’t have enough pilots to meet the demands of Amazon because their experienced pilots are leaving for better jobs at other airlines," according to a statement on the website. "At this rate, there may not be enough pilots to deliver for Amazon around the holidays."

An Amazon spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment on the issue.

Pilot strikes in the U.S. are rare due to the Railway Labor Act, a 90-year-old federal law intended to prevent labor disputes from disrupting commerce. This latest attempt was short-lived, so the pilots involved are trying to pressure their employers by appealing directly to Amazon shoppers as they browse for holiday gifts.

A recent Amazon flight was grounded in Dallas for about 15 hours because the pilots were fatigued and there was no backup crew nearby, an indication of a pilot shortage, said Bob Kirchner, a captain with Atlas Air.

"People are being run ragged because of the pilot shortage," he said. "We want everyone to know and we want the public and Amazon to pressure these companies to sit down with us and do a fair negotiation."

 

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