Atlas Air and Southern Air are suing unions that represent their pilots to compel them to submit to arbitration.
The pilots are represented by affiliates of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The pilots have been working under contracts that go back to 2011 and 2012.
Union representatives have said previously that Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, the Purchase-based owner of Atlas Air and Southern Air, has not negotiated in good faith for a new contract.
The cargo airlines say arbitration is mandatory for resolving what it characterizes as minor contract disputes, in a lawsuit filed on Feb. 7 in U.S. District Court in White Plains.
Atlas Air Worldwide acquired Southern Air last year. At that point, Atlas has said the pilots were required by their contracts to negotiate a joint collective bargaining agreement.
Union representatives contend that Atlas is trying to merge two substandard contracts rather than bring pilots up to industry standards. The Teamsters said in a news release that the dispute is creating a staffing crisis as pilots leave Atlas Air to work for competitors with better paying jobs.
The pilots’ union says the dispute could affect the company’s ability to serve its customers. Atlas Air Worldwide is a major contractor for DHL and Amazon.
Airlines are regulated under the Railway Labor Act, which allows workers to organize and negotiate contracts, but protects airlines from wildcat strikes. Collective bargaining agreements do not expire, so until both sides agree on terms the existing contract remains in effect.
Atlas Air Worldwide employs about 1,200 pilots and operates a fleet of more than 80 jets. It recorded $1.8 billion in revenue in 2015.