Premise

Southwest Airlines sued the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) of illegally disrupting operations to strengthen their bargaining position during contract negotiations, which have gone on since 2012.

According to the article, both sides accuse the other of essentially not willing to make an agreement. Labor accuses management of not negotiating in good faith, and management accuses labor of intentionally harming Southwest’s capability to fly in order to improve their negotiation power.

Less planes in the sky is bad for all but worse for whom?

 

Labor Position

  • Accuses management of not negotiating in good faith
  • Disputes the management argument that maintenance issues were driven by contract dispute
  • Planes out of service due to critical errors especially after last year’s incident where a woman was killed by a fan blade.
  • Has the support of the pilots union

I have included labor’s most recent update to their members below, dated February 8th, 2019, emphasis mine:

As you will recall, your Committee provided the last proposal in these negotiations two weeks ago in response to the Company’s counterproposal. The Company outright refused to provide a counterproposal this week with the only explanation being: “We did not view that as a proposal.” The Company continues to insist on massive offsets of foreign outsourcing and elimination of your paid rest. The Company asks for these “offsets” while not increasing the money in any significant fashion from the Tentative Agreement (TA) that you, the membership, rejected by a wide margin.

Your Committee was prepared to receive the Company’s counterproposal this week and advised the Company we wanted to reach a deal. Make no mistake – the Company is not currently engaged in good faith negotiation. This is delay for the sake of delay just as Mr. McCrady threatened in his first letter to you following rejection of the TA. We thank you for this continued support. The solidarity that we have seen since conclusion of the ratification process continues to increase with each passing day and that is exactly what we need in order to bargain for what you have rightfully earned.

Additionally, a memo from the national director of AMFA on March 3, 2019 responds to the lawsuit:

This lawsuit comes on the heels of the Company’s self-styled “State of Operational Emergency” at several maintenance locations where it believes too many discrepancies were being generated and resulted in aircraft not being pushed back into service fast enough. When AMFA asked for evidence of even a single illegitimate write-up, none was produced –  instead, this new lawsuit was filed. Furthermore, this “State of Operational Emergency” was instituted with wholesale disregard of many contractual provisions that provide employees with schedule flexibility and earned time off, as well as outsourcing covered work to third party vendors.

 

Management Position

Will SW flyers be repulsed and fly other carriers?

  • Accuses Labor of unlawful, coordinated job action designed to put pressure on management.
  • Evidence includes “uptick on cosmetic and other minor maintenance write-ups” making Southwest delay/cancel hundreds of flights as aircraft are out of service.
  • Minor writeups “such as a missing row number on an airline that does not assign seats” spiked ~5-6x after talks failed to reach an agreement
  • States that cost and revenue loss for cancelled flights combined with unhappy/disgruntled customers would lead to transitioning to other airlines

Per CBS News and the lawsuit details in documents:

On February 12, 2019 — immediately following AMFA’s blow up at the NMB [National Mediation Board] mediation session — Southwest began to experience an unprecedented number of aircraft out of service, despite no change in leadership and no change in policies or procedures,” the lawsuit reads. “Given the timing of the recent NMB negotiations and the nature of the write ups, it appeared that AMFA and its members were organizing and encouraging Southwest mechanics to unnecessarily write up maintenance issues in order to remove aircraft from service and disrupt Southwest’s operations in an effort to gain an advantage in contract negotiations.

Lawsuit also goes further and said SWA averages 14 aircraft out of service, with 35 being the prohibitive number where the airline fails to meet its obligations. The lawsuit alleges 46 out of service aircraft per day from 2/11 and 2/22, spiking on 2/19 with 62 planes being out of service, over four times what would be considered a “normal” day.

 

Conclusion

I am a big fan of locking everyone in a room (SWA negotiators and AMFA negotiators) with a clock running down to, taking a page out of the government’s book, sequestration – automatic, large, and painful cuts to the wants of both parties. Bathroom and food breaks are allowed, but perhaps if they negotiated in one building, no outside calls allowed, food brought in, using the shower facilities, they would get stuff done.

Sequestration in this case would need to be punitive to both sides – so say 50 planes out of service each day automatically, and across the board cuts to labor’s pay, contracts, or benefits. You don’t want that? Get to the table and negotiate. I would prefer Southwest pay fairly (compensating at or above the industry level) and the mechanics ensure the planes are functional (obviously, with less out of service). If you pay your workers fairly, turnover and training declines, and overall morale is better. When morale is better, they treat customers and products better, which make customers happier.

I originally found just one article, but it was so interesting I had to learn more about both sides. Lastly, they’ve been negotiating for many years. Why not sign a shorter term, auto-renewing contract, or perhaps a longer-term contract. They already do some sort of profit sharing, so employees can share in the upside of the industry.

Management & Labor – lock them in a room.

 

 

Featured Image of a Southwest plane from Unsplash.  Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which, should you click through and/or make a purchase, grant me a commission. Also, I only post in the best interest of my readers. Lastly, thank you for supporting my blog and my travels. 

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