For decades, really most of its existence, Southwest Airlines had a reputation for being a company that treats employees well. That seemed to continue through the covid pandemic when the airline used early retirement offers and government money to avoid layoffs.
Since the company’s holiday meltdown, however, cracks have appeared with Southwest Airlines (LUV) – Get Free Report facing labor unrest as it negotiates new contracts with both its flight attendants and its pilots.
First, flight attendants staged a picket outside the company’s annual “rally” Feb. 21 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. That’s usually a celebratory event, but the picket and accompanying harsh statement from Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents 18,000 Southwest flight attendants, was surprising.
It’s time for accountability on the part of Southwest Airlines. TWU Local 556 believes strongly in making this airline successful and is working to ensure this company we love isn’t run into the ground by leadership more concerned about shareholders than about workers and customers. Management’s methodology of choosing profits at the expense of the operation and its workforce has to change, because the flying public is also tired of the empty apologies that flight attendants have endured for years.
That was matched by a similar statement from The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA).
“How did we get here? How did we go from the most stable and profitable airline in history to the greatest meltdown in airline history? As with most organizations, the answer can be distilled down to one word: Leadership. Actually, in our case, it’s three words: Lack of leadership,” the association shared.
Now, with there still not being a contract between the airline and its pilots, SWAPA President Capt. Casey Murray has unloaded on the airline.
Southwest faces labor unrest on multiple fronts.
Image source: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Southwest Faces a Pilot Problem
Every airline faces contentious negotiations with their pilots union because a shortage of pilots has given the workers the upper hand. America Airlines (AAL) – Get Free Report might see its deal with its pilots fall through because United Airlines (UAL) – Get Free Report pilots got a better deal from their airline.
Negotiating over raises and work conditions is never easy, but Southwest’s discussions seem particularly ugly. Murray went on the offensive in a recent interview with Aviation Daily.
“I feel confident when I say that we’re the only labor union in the world that is not trying to work less and get paid more; we’re trying to provide efficiency so that we work smarter,” he said. “That’s our main sticking point in negotiations — simply trying to drive some efficiencies in how we are being used.”
SWAPA has been relentless in pointing out that the airline has had multiple meltdowns like the one it suffered over the holiday season. The airline plans to spend $1.3 billion to fix the infrastructure issues that led to those problems. Murray supports that, but sees that as only addressing part of the problem.
“Yes, $1.3 billion does need to be spent,” Murray said. “With the focus on dividends and buybacks over the last decade, there has been a lack of investment in infrastructure and IT, and that does have to be done. But none of that is going to solve the process problems of connecting pilots and airplanes…there has to be a refocusing on efficiency.”
Southwest Labor Relations Vice President Adam Carlisle responded to Murray’s comments via an email to TheStreet.
“We feel confident that the mediation process will continue driving us even closer to a final agreement that rewards our Pilots and supports our business. We have a 52-year history of taking care of Southwest Employees, and we look forward to continuing that legacy,” he shared.
SWAPA pilots voted to authorize a strike earlier this year and have asked to be released from federal mediation which would need to happen for a strike to actually occur.
The email from Southwest also pointed out that Southwest’s negotiations with its pilots had been going on for about a year less than it took its rival airlines to reach deals.