Press Release

Five Years of Bad Faith Bargaining by Amerijet Results in Strike

By SpaceRef Editor
August 30, 2009
Filed under , ,

Caribbean Islands and South America To Suffer Brunt as Critical Air Cargo Service Will Be Lost

Despite a five year attempt to secure a contract, the pilots and flight engineers of Amerijet International (Amerijet) have now gone on strike, according to the Airline Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The crewmembers of the Ft. Lauderdale-based all-cargo airline have been attempting to negotiate for a first contract since early in 2004. Over 5-1/2 years, they have faced management-based attempts to decertify the union, unilateral wage and benefit cuts and increased pressure to remove the legally elected union from the property.

Amerijet management’s refusal to bargain in good faith resulted in the appointment of a federal mediator by the National Mediation Board (NMB) two years ago. Amerijet’s continued bad faith bargaining led to the imposition of a 30-day cooling-off period by the NMB, the expiration of which allows either party to engage in self-help activities if an agreement is not reached. The 30-day cooling off period expired Thursday morning at 12:01.

“The NMB very rarely imposes cooling-off periods and mediation “releases” enabling labor unions to engage in self-help activities,” said Teamster spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez. “The NMB’s decision to impose such a cooling-off period and release reflects Amerijet’s complete bad faith conduct throughout this 5-1/2 year ordeal. Over the last several days, the NMB, along with the union, continued to urge management to respond in good faith and come to an agreement. Late last night, Amerijet management broke off further negotiations and walked out of the NMB-sponsored contract talks.

“The key hang-up in the contract talks involved Amerijet’s insistence on a five-year contract without any raise in the last 20 months of the contract’s term. The company also refused the union’s demand to restore severe wage and benefit cuts that the company imposed earlier this year, during a previous NMB-directed negotiating meeting in Washington, D.C.,” Gonzalez said.

“In addition to operating the ‘Zero G’ aircraft that charges passengers $5,000 for a weightless flight experience, Amerijet pilots and flight engineers also fly Boeing 727 jets. They operate an air cargo link to many Caribbean islands and nations, carrying vital goods to individuals and companies who rely on this air bridge for critical air service in the region to and from the United States,” said Gonzalez.

“Prior to suffering a unilateral 10 percent wage cut imposed in March 2009, the Amerijet pilots and flight engineers had been working at the same pay rate since 1999. It is a pay rate that is not only at or below the poverty level, it is almost identical to the pay of the regional pilots who were killed in the crash of Colgan Air 3407 in Buffalo this year.

“The average Amerijet first officer’s pay was $36,000 a year before the 10 percent cut earlier this year,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez also said that Amerijet does not provide basic sanitary facilities on the airplanes and does not provide food and water to their pilots and flight engineers flying long, hot and exhausting duty days throughout the Caribbean and South America.

“Amerijet’s refusal to provide for even basic physiological needs and their insistence that even further pay penalties be imposed on the pilots and flight engineers if they call in sick for a flight is a testament to the mindset that has created the problems facing the airline industry and the need for change,” Gonzalez said.

Federal aviation regulations specifically prohibit crewmembers from flying while sick, a factor that has been cited as a potential contributing factor in the Buffalo crash that killed fifty seven people earlier this year.

The Teamsters proposed a four-year contract with a reinstatement of the arbitrary 10 percent wage cut imposed earlier this year by the company in its continued effort to force the crewmembers to dump the union. The Teamsters also imposed a $250 lump sum payment on signing of a contract and a 3 percent pay raise for the three following years.

Amerijet’s final offer was a five-year demand with no raise in the final 20 months of the contract; along with the further imposition of a five-hour-per-day pay cut for any crewmember who called in sick for a trip.

“In the end, the losers here are not just the customers, but the countries of the Caribbean that count on critical and timely air cargo service as well,” said Gonzalez. “Time-critical shipments will be lost due to the refusal of an airline management that puts their personal gain ahead of their customers. We have received commitments from other air cargo carrier pilot groups and other transport-related unions to honor the Amerijet pilots’ and flight engineers’ picket lines.

“Businesses unrelated to Amerijet will also be affected as other union members in all likelihood will refuse to cross those lines to deliver other goods and packages. It is truly unfortunate that Amerijet is such a bad corporate neighbor to many South Florida companies,” she said.

The Airline Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 769, represents the flight deck crewmembers employed by Amerijet International, a cargo airline that operates primarily to and from the Miami International Airport and the Caribbean Islands and South America. Teamsters Local 769 represents over 8,000 employees and families throughout South Florida.

Amerijet International, Inc. is headquartered at 2800 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 33316; Phone: (954) 320-5300.

The company was founded in 1973 by its current president, David Bassett.

Miami-based private equity firm HIG Capital acquired a 66 percent stake in the company in 2002, while Bassett controls the remaining shares.

Amerijet International, Inc. is a cargo air carrier based in Miami that operates a fleet of eight Boeing 727s and five Boeing 767s. Amerijet also provides its customers with cargo handling services via sea and land through its subsidiary ITN Consolidators.

Amerijet directly serves 52 destinations in 31 countries, including multiple locations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Amerijet pilots also fly $5,000-per-passenger zero-gravity flights for the Zero-G Corporation as well as for NASA.

According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, Amerijet had negative net income of $1.3 million in 2007, but earned $402,000 in 2008, largely due to a smaller loss in the third quarter and increased earnings in the fourth. The company took in $152.6 million in operating revenue in 2008.

Amerijet recently acquired SRX Transcontinental, a company that manages ground handling services in Central Asia and owns a Uzbekistan-based cargo airline, as well as a controlling share in Nation’s Express, an express truck charter company based in Charlotte, N.C.

As of the fourth quarter of 2008, Amerijet employed a total of 560 people in its air cargo business, including 58 pilots.

Teamsters at Amerijet

Amerijet pilots won representation by Teamsters Local Union 769 on March 25, 2004.

Over the last five years, Amerijet has refused to bargain in good faith and imposed unilateral pay and benefit cuts.

Amerijet also solicited participation in early 2008 in a decertification election, but this effort was overwhelmingly defeated.

The National Mediation Board has been providing mediation for the last two years and released Amerijet pilots to strike beginning August 27, 2009.

On August 26, 2009, Amerijet made its final contract offer, in which it demanded a 5-year contract with no wage increases for nearly the last two years, and refused to restore severe wage and benefit cuts imposed earlier this year.

Prior to the 10 percent wage cut imposed in March of 2009, Amerijet pilots had been working at the same pay rates since 1999.

Amerijet pilots fly long, tiring routes, often on aircraft that lack adequate restroom facilities.

Amerijet pilots initiated a strike against Amerijet on August 27, 2009.

Teamsters Local Union 769 is located at 12365 West Dixie Highway, North Miami, FL 33161.

HIG Capital

HIG Capital is a private equity firm that handles of $7.5 billion in equity capital and owns a 66 percent stake in Amerijet.

Other aerospace companies in HIG Capital’s portfolio include AirNet and Flight Options, two operators of business and charter aircraft. The Teamsters were certified as the representative of the Flight Options pilots in March of 2006.

HIG Capital was co-founded by Samy Mnaymneh and Tony Tamer in 1993.

Investors in HIG Capital include Allianz AG, Credit Suisse First Boston, Goldman Sachs, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, and Yale University.

Source: Teamsters Local 769

CONTACT: Daisy Gonzalez of Teamsters Local 769, +1-321-536-7077

SpaceRef staff editor.