99% Of Southwest Airlines Pilots Vote To Authorize Strike

99% of pilots casting a ballot voted to authorize a strike. This was largely pitched to members as negotiating leverage: vote to strike so you don’t need to strike. It’s a threat to the company to get them to give more in negotiations.

Once a union calls for strike authorization, members have to go along – otherwise the union’s credibility implodes and the company knows there isn’t a strike threat looming in the background. So pilots basically had to vote yes.

Of course they voted yes thinking it doesn’t really carry force, it just helps get an agreement done. But it is a procedural hurdle that makes a strike more likely. And the negotiations take on a logic of their own. A strike authorization vote can’t turn into a strike without the National Mediation Board first triggering a ‘cooling off period’ before employees are authorized to engage in ‘self-help’. But the authorization vote, sold as avoiding a strike by making a contract more likely to happen, does make a strike more possible.

Southwest Airlines pilots are well-paid for the work that they do – flying Boeing 737s on relatively short stage-lengths. But their salaries don’t reach the level of those who fly widebody aircraft to far-flung destinations they way they do at United, Delta and American. And Delta agreed to a record-breaking contract that’s putting pressure on the rest of the industry.

American’s pilots have already voted to authorize a strike even in the face of being offered a 21% pay increase in the first year and 40% by the fourth year of the deal, up to $590,000 per year. United’s pilots are demonstrating as well.

Somehow pilots think public demonstrations make them look good and put pressure on the company. They present as uniformly older, white, and wealthy. These aren’t the workers that, say, Cesar Chavez fought for.

At American pilots are claiming they’re threatening to strike for the benefit of passengers which is of course insane. They’re suggesting they’re ‘out to ensure reliability for our customers’ and that’s why they might undermine reliability with a strike.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The whole thing is obviously a farce, but this is the unfortunate way labor relations have been codified in the airline industry. It’s bad for everyone, but I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Obviously a “strike vote” is meaningless, and of no real concern to anyone.

  2. Delta management and pilots realized that the current pilot shortage means there has to be a supply of pilots in order for an airline to have a future. The low cost carriers competed for pilots with regional airlines and moved first to sign new contracts w/ their pilot unions as regional airlines started dramatically increasing pay.
    Delta was the first of the big 4 while American, United and Southwest have been very slow to come to agreement; the terms of the Delta contract were known almost 6 months.
    At a cost of $1.75 billion more per year above the previous pilot contract, the Delta contract is very expensive. Other airlines simply do not have the business plans to be able to generate that kind of money and still generate good profits.
    Southwest among the big 4 is especially challenged to come up w/ revenue to pay for a big new pilot contract because they do not have the international longhaul revenue that is seeing great strength for AA DL and UA.
    Add in the delays getting the MAX 7 delivered to Southwest and the ongoing costs and bookaway from the December operational disaster – all the result of management decisions.

    WN pilots are completely right to ratchet up the pressure on management to get a deal done. AA pilots have voted to authorize a strike. The only question is why UA pilots have not done the same thing.

  3. I hope they strike and Southwest ceases operations. In the past three years, they have gone from hero to zero. Now they are known as zero reliability, zero customer service etc. Even yesterday my SRQ to BWI flight was three hours late due to mechanical issues. I missed my appointment. They desperately need a do over.

  4. lol all these “liberals” on here become the most right-wing neocons when the actual working class dare to speak up.

    You seem to only be lefties when it’s grown men grooming young children.

  5. Unions, as rules are currently structured, represent a pox on society. There’s nothing wrong with unions, per se, as long as the same rights they’re granted apply equally to the employer. Of course, we all know that isn’t the case.

  6. The airlines are a disaster. I have not had an enjoyable flight in years. I expect flight to operate on time with helpful and courteous staff. I have gotten none of that. If you miss the event you are traveling to half the time what is the point. Unless you are traveling more than a thousand miles, just get in the car. $590,000??????? Get lost.

  7. @TimDunn — I suspect Delta can afford this contract, but the idea that Delta is some super-profit machine compared to the other major carriers is false. If you look at the last quarter’s earnings, you can clearly see that. It’s not really their fault, but Delta is largely trapped with a route map of declining cities. This problem is already rearing its head for them, and there is an approximately zero chance of reversal in the next 10 years. Most of the money made in America will be made in the Sunbelt. Delta only has Atlanta — which is good, but won’t compensate for hopeless cities like MSP and DTW. NYC has never been particularly profitable for airlines (just like LAX), and all signs suggest NYC’s inevitable further decline will not help.

  8. chopsticks,
    Delta’s earnings for the 1st quarter were reduced by $750 million due to one-time payments as part of the pilot contract; DL’s labor costs also fully reflect the higher salaries for all of its labor costs – which not a single other US airline has implemented.

    DL’s network is not of a dying part of the world. If NYC, BOS, LAX, and SEA are dying, then there will be a whole lot of other airlines that will die also.

    And you and others significantly underestimate the untapped value of Delta’s international network that has yet to be developed. The Korean and Latam joint ventures have enormous potential but are just getting started.

    Delta has nearly 3 dozen new generation widebodies due for delivery in just the next 3 years. and that is before a new order which will likely include the A350-1000 and more A330-900s. No other US airline will be able to match Delta’s seat costs on its international network for years to come.

    Delta has enormous growth potential on both its domestic and international network.

    You are right that American has a strong presence in the southern US but it is simply not participating in the growth of global air travel.

    It is actually United with its massive fleet spending that is most at financial risk.

    And Southwest simply cannot afford the massive salaries that pilots there need to be able to compete with carriers at rates equivalent to Delta.

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