Carriers, pilots clash over failed labor negotiation
- Pilots at Flexjet began voting this week on whether to oust the Teamsters Union, as reported by Bloomberg. The electronic vote will be held through May 30, and follows a narrow vote two years ago when the pilots agreed to join the union.
- The majority of pilots at Flexjet and sister company Flight Options petitioned the National Mediation Board to oust the Teamsters.
- The Teamsters allege Flexjet was engaged in a strategy to frustrate their pilots by restricting the negotiation process and passing blame onto the union.
Just two years ago, the 550 pilots at Flexjet narrowly voted to join the Teamsters Union. Now, with their company urging them on, they have until May 30 to vote the union out. In the two years, the Teamsters and the airline have failed to agree on a contract.
After receiving a petition signed by a majority of pilots at the airline and its sister company, Flight Options, the National Mediation Board, the federal agency responsible for airline labor relations, ordered the decertification election after receiving a petition to oust the Teamsters.
Charges, as expected, are flying back and forth. Flexjet says the Teamsters haven’t done anything for the pilots, while the union charges the airline with interfering with the election and firing three pilots for union activity.
It’s just one more hurdle in the turbulent world of air freight. Driven by the explosive growth of e-commerce, carriers are struggling with shrinking capacity and a pilot shortage is looming. Shippers such as UPS and FedEx have unionized pilots. In fact, UPS has angered its pilots’ union — the Independent Pilots Association — because it has turned to third-party cargo airlines to deal with its capacity shortage.
The IPA complained to an industry arbitrator that UPS is violating its labor contract by outsourcing flying that should be done by its own pilots. The carrier acknowledged it is hiring outside contractors, saying it was leasing planes to be flown by UPS crews and also having third parties fly their own planes on the company’s behalf.
Because of e-commerce’s continued growth, 3PLs are offering more multi-modal services. For example, UPS Trade Direct is an alternative that moves multiple smaller shipments in a consolidated freight shipment that moves internationally and then is broken down and distributed through the company’s small-package network.
Union leaders are concerned with the Flexjet situation and, perhaps, the domino effect it could have on pilots throughout the industry.
But if more and more pilots feel they've been treated unfairly, they could switch carriers or quit the business altogether. Then carriers might have an even harder time managing the capacity crunch.
Follow Barry Hochfelder on Twitter