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Labor Relations at Southwest Airlines Are Becoming More Turbulent

Southwest Airlines Pilots Association or SWAPA released a podcast describing their perceptions of the state of pilot labor relations. This is mere days after the Southwest Airlines flight attendants’ union TWU Local 556 held an all-base informational picket about improving work conditions. Both unions have filed to the National Mediation Board requesting a mediator to help move negotiations with Southwest Airlines management along.

For SWAPA, all big items unresolved

SWAPA has issues with negotiations where management negotiators have shown up late, unprepared, and without proposals to present on topics such as pay. Furthermore, Southwest has lost fifty pilots voluntarily in 2022, according to SWAPA.

According to the SWAPA negotiation committee representatives on the podcast, part of the matter is that SWAPA wants a contract rewrite. The problem is that the current contract has many glaring deficiencies, from a lack of addressing maternity leave to the growth of Southwest Airlines’ network – such as massive growth in connecting to the State of Hawai’i.

For Kurt Heidemann of the SWAPA Negotiating Committee, another issue is that management wants “flexibility” versus SWAPA wanting “to provide certainty to our pilots.” SWAPA leaders wish for a better plan than improvisation when challenges arise, like with the 737 MAX or a training center.

A year ago. Southwest Airlines got to a point around October 11, 2021 (Columbus Day), where over 1,100 pilots on duty did not fly a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 aircraft in revenue service. Such is the severity of the deadheading problem, according to SWAPA.

Fatigue ginormous issue

According to one of the SWAPA negotiating committee members, Southwest chief pilots are calling trying to lobby pilots not to call in fatigued. But Southwest pilots are flying six days straight with 25% of the trips rerouted, adding to the ongoing fatigue crisis.

Pilot fatigue is a growing concern for Southwest Airlines and other carriers, including Delta Air Lines. Nonetheless, SWAPA wrote an open letter earlier this year demanding CEO Robert Jordan act to stop the climb of necessary fatigue reports from SWAPA members.

Southwest Flight Attendants are also reporting issues

For TWU Local 556 President Lyn Montgomery, as per above, the issues at Southwest are spreading to the “bread and butter” of the flight attendants she represents and passengers. It doesn’t help when the flight attendants and pilots use the same outdated scheduling system.

Montgomery was clear - “We have to get change. We cannot go on like this.” The hope is that on September 27, an informational picket would “light a fire” to get to a contract. One can read more about the picket in last week's labor relations round-up.

Nonetheless, the informational picket served essential purposes of solid visuals, airline passenger education, and in the words of Casey Murray, SWAPA President, "Doing the pickets is trying to put some pressure as we stand in front of the public and tell them, you know why we are here."

Herb Kelleher had a different view of labor relations

Ultimately, Southwest Airlines’ founder Herb Kelleher had a different view of labor relations. As evidenced by the above YouTube interview at Stanford Business School, Kelleher said,

“We never treated them [labor unions] as adversaries. We treated them as partners because if that canoe goes down, we’re all going to go down with it. … In other words, having a little realism recognizing that the people that you're dealing with have you know their responsibilities too and being very cognizant of their needs. They reciprocate, they respond to that very, very well. It's interesting because after you've established a relationship of trust and understanding; a couple of times, we’ve had leaders that probably were not too conducive to the well-being of Southwest Airlines as a whole, and their own membership has voted them out of office without any urging or effort on our part. … That’s a kind of a tribute to the kind of relationship we have.”

Nowadays, Southwest Airlines’ unions have informational picket after informational picket. Recently, SWAPA President Casey Murray alleged on The SWAPA Number podcast that Southwest Airlines, "Ambles along with no real no real vision and no real motivation." Clearly a different day for Southwest Airlines than the heydays of Kelleher.

This article originally appeared in Simple Flying

Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

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