DHL HELL

As a pilot, I’ve seen up close that global companies skirting American labor rules have to be stopped

Like many Americans, I want to provide my family with the opportunity to live a better life than my own and to work toward a brighter future for my children and future generations. As a US cargo pilot, I feel honored by the role my colleagues and I play in building this future. We work long hours, fly in dangerous conditions and go through years of training, but we do it because we understand that our work is vital to keeping our economy humming. Our commitment to our customers is a top priority, and the notion of service runs deep in our industry.

Like me, many of my colleagues are veterans or reservists who have spent years in selfless service and embody this same dedication in their professional lives. Yet after years in this field, I can no longer remain silent as American workers are shortchanged and our nation’s laws skirted by a global corporation dragging us down a race to the bottom.

Despite the important work US cargo pilots do, our profession is under threat from a foreign company that is showing little regard for the standards that have long defined our nation’s piloting tradition. DHL, one of the largest shipping companies in the world, based in Germany, is using its size and influence over the industry to undercut its US workforce.

And now, Amazon, a growing logistics force in its own right, is following DHL’s lead in shortchanging US pilots as it looks to build out its own air delivery business. As millions of frustrated Americans look for leadership on protecting US jobs, everyone from president Donald Trump to speaker of the house Paul Ryan to senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are making this issue a priority. And with DHL’s shareholder meeting today, US leaders need to turn their attention to these two companies.

Five carriers in the US–Atlas Air, Southern Air, Polar Air, ABX Air, and Kalitta Air—are responsible for 70% of DHL’s global flying. I’ve been a cargo pilot for nine years at one of these airlines. Like many of my peers, I sought this career as an opportunity to travel and connect our great country with the rest of the world. When I first learned that I would be flying for DHL, I was excited. I believed in the image of DHL as an innovator and a leader respected by businesses and customers alike. But the reality of working for DHL is pushing me and my family to our breaking point.

Even after posting record profits last year and signing off on millions for its top executives, the company is pushing its contracted cargo carriers in the US to provide service at substandard rates. The enormous pressure trickles down to pilots like me, leading to lower standards in pay, benefits, and quality of life found at iconic American shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx.

Despite the mounting criticism it has faced over its own labor practices, Amazon is now taking its cue from DHL and using similar tactics that degrade standards for American workers. In hopes of expanding its new Prime Air venture, the company has hired two DHL cargo contractors, while also unveiling plans to use DHL’s existing facilities for its air delivery operations.

At my airline, Southern Air, DHL’s pressure is taking a serious toll. We’re regularly forced to fly much longer hours than pilots at other American carriers. For example, my colleagues and I have been asked to sit on 14-hour flights from the UW to the Middle East, only to then fly the same aircraft to Asia on another nine-hour journey. This is equivalent to flying three-quarters of the way around the world—nearly 23 hours in total—in a single day.

And DHL’s disregard for its US pilots isn’t just hurting us—it’s placing an incredible burden on our families. At another DHL carrier, pilots went on strike for two days after a year of regularly being forced to cover overtime shifts due to short-staffing. Ask any pilot and they will tell you the pain of telling your loved ones that you will once again be missing a school play, an anniversary, a basketball game, or a date night with your spouse is unbearable. And it’s only made worse knowing that you are sacrificing these precious moments to meet DHL’s outrageous demands.

And most disturbing—it is becoming increasingly clear that DHL is trying to pull the strings from behind the scenes, using a complex web of ties to our industry to bypass legal checks against foreign influence and bring its “slash and burn” mentality toward workers to America. At one US-based DHL carrier, Polar Air, DHL already owns 49% of the company—the largest stake a foreign entity can own. At Southern Air, we not only fly exclusively for DHL, but the German company also owns and leases back the planes that we fly.

It is time to stop foreign corporations from subverting the laws of our nation and pushing an agenda that undermines the value of our labor and encourages other companies to follow suit. Millions of Americans, including cargo pilots and our families, have made it clear that we want our elected officials to stand up for American workers. It isn’t a partisan issue. We hope president Trump and all of our elected leaders—regardless of party—join us in demanding that DHL and Amazon stop using their influence to shortchange pilots in America.

Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search