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Pilots sue Atlas Air to stop subcontracting passenger flights

Atlas Air Inc. pilots have sued to enforce an arbitration ruling that the Purchase-based company may not use subcontractors to fly passengers.

“The company is now on notice,” the Crewmembers’ System Board of Adjustment ruled on Nov. 13, “that it cannot subcontract the transport of passengers.”

Atlas Air“The company will have to do that flying itself either by adjusting its schedules to make its planes available or by acquiring or leasing additional aircraft or by reaching agreement with the union to permit it to subcontract such flying in unforeseen situations.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and its Airline Professionals Association petitioned federal court in White Plains on Feb. 4 to confirm the arbitration decision against Atlas and its affiliate, Polar Air Cargo Worldwide Inc.

Atlas may subcontract cargo flights when it has insufficient aircraft or crews, under the union agreement. It must give the union prompt notice for each episode – covering up to 90 or 180 days, depending on the type of aircraft – and describe the circumstances.

Atlas notified the union seven times from 2014 to 2017 that it was subcontracting military passenger flights. The union did not object.

The company sent three more notices in 2017, when an Atlas aircraft was out of service and it hired Omni Air to fly military passengers.

The union filed grievances, arguing that subcontracts may be used only for cargo flights.

Atlas argued that the word cargo in the agreement should be read to include the transport of passengers, and that when the union did not object to the first seven notices it had in effect agreed with the company’s interpretation.

The arbitrators ruled that “cargo” and “passengers” are distinct terms.

“While neither term is defined in the agreement,” the decision states, “it is the board’s view that cargo would not ordinarily include passengers and passengers would not ordinarily include cargo.”

The arbitrators declined to order a remedy for the violations, because when Atlas subcontracted the flights it had no reason to believe that the union objected to the practice. The board also noted that the subcontracts resulted in no harm to Atlas’ pilots.

Capt. Daniel Wells, who flies for Atlas out of Los Angeles and who is president of the union local, disagreed.

Pilots are paid by the hours they fly, he said in a telephone interview, and subcontracted flights take away jobs and earnings.

“The root cause,” he said, “is that they don’t have enough pilots and aircraft. That leads them to giving away flights.”

The board ordered Atlas to stop subcontracting passenger flights, unless the union agreed to permit them.

The arbitration board’s ruling was written by the chairman and neutral arbitrator, Edward B. Krinsky, with concurrence by union appointee Matthew Sturgis. The company’s appointee, Jennifer Chernichaw, dissented.

The Teamsters Union is asking federal court to confirm the arbitration decision and order Atlas to pays the union’s legal fees.

“While we are still reviewing,” a company spokeswoman said, “we do not believe the lawsuit has merit. We do not further comment on pending litigation.”

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