ATI’s pilots are taking a less antagonistic tone in hopes of bringing Amazon to the negotiating table. “What we don’t want to do is affect our customers,” says Sterling. “We’ve done a lot to protect our obsession with Amazon.” However, he says the intransigence of ATSG’s management has left the pilots with no choice but to call a strike.
“This side of Amazon’s network is the most vulnerable to labor strikes,” says Marc Wulfraat, president of logistics consultancy MWPVL. If drivers or warehouse workers strike, the company can shift the flow of products and packages to one of its many nearby warehouses, but airports are fewer in number and farther apart.
Amazon could compensate for a walkout at ATI by shifting volume to other air carriers under the Amazon Air umbrella, but only if they have the capacity to handle the influx at all of the airports. It could also transport some of its packages by truck instead, which it did during the brief 2016 strike. However, this could result in slower shipping times and reduced service, says Wulfraat, which flies in the face of Amazon’s mantra of customer obsession.
Pilots also have the advantage of being generally in a strong position across the airline industry. “It’s still a very, very hot job market” for pilots, says Geoff Murray, a partner who works on aerospace at management consultancy Oliver Wyman. Plummeting demand for passenger pilots during the pandemic sent many into early retirement, worsening an existing pilot shortage that got more acute as the industry bounced back. Wages have soared. Oliver Wyman estimates that captains’ pay at the US mainline carriers, such as Delta and UPS, has increased 46 percent since 2020, while regional carriers have increased pay by 86 percent.
Pilot Drew Patterson came to ATI in 2021, attracted by the work-life balance the airline offered, but as the carrier lost pilots, he has seen his workload creep up and his schedule become more unpredictable. With fewer crews to operate the same number of flights, “everybody else’s schedule gets compressed,” he says. “Sometimes you can be away from home for a long time.”
Long-term, he thinks Amazon’s continued growth should be a good thing for ATI and its employees, so he’s been willing to stick it out. But he’s not so sure all of his colleagues will feel the same about current conditions at the company.
“All of this has a real house-of-cards feeling to it,” says Sterling. “We just can’t sustain what we’re doing.”