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Airline Used by Amazon Goes to Court as Pilot Strike Enters Day 2

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ABX Air cargo planes at its headquarters in Wilmington, Ohio. Pilots struck the airline on Tuesday to protest excessive flight assignments. Credit Al Behrman/Associated Press

SEATTLE — A strike by airline cargo pilots that threatens to delay Amazon orders entered its second day on Wednesday as the carrier that employs the pilots headed to court to demand an end to the work stoppage.

About 250 pilots for the carrier, ABX Air, went on strike Tuesday, accusing their employer of forcing them to work an excessive number of flight assignments in violation of their contract.

According to the Airline Professionals Association, the union representing the pilots, the problems arose because of significant understaffing problems at ABX Air, which has demanded that pilots fly “emergency” flights to meet the demands of its cargo customers, disrupting the pilots’ schedules.

The pilots are picketing outside ABX headquarters in Wilmington, Ohio, and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, where DHL, one of ABX’s big customers, has its North American hub.

Another big ABX customer is Amazon, which has significantly expanded the number of jets it leases from carriers like ABX over the last year to meet soaring demand from customers for speedy shipment of their orders.

This year, Amazon and the Air Transport Services Group, the parent company of ABX, announced that Amazon was leasing 20 Boeing 767 freighter aircraft to ensure that the retailer has enough capacity to ship one and two-day deliveries for customers.

As part of their agreement, the carrier granted Amazon warrants to buy just under 20 percent of its stock over a five-year period.

Amazon suggested that so far, the strike had not affected its customers. “We work with a variety of carriers and are confident in our ability to serve customers,” Kelly Cheeseman, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement.

great lengths to discourage employees in its warehouses across the country from forming unions, arguing that they would interfere with the company’s ability to innovate inside the facilities. But the strike by the pilots shows how some segments of its logistics network could still be affected by organized labor.

Richard Ziebarth, a pilot for ABX Air and a representative of its union, said in a phone interview that the scheduling demands of his employer had caused considerable strain among pilots, which could become worse as the carrier and its customers head into the peak holiday shopping season.

“I can’t tell you how many birthdays, family events, anniversaries and even funerals our pilots have had to miss because of all these emergency flights,” he said.

Mr. Ziebarth said the staffing problems at the carrier had been building for years. “We were short before Amazon,” he said. “Amazon came on and that pushed us over the cliff.”

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