Full Pay To The Last Day: Southwest Union Tells Cabin Crew Not To Worry About Furloughs Notices

While American Airlines and United have already furloughed 35,000 workers, Delta and Southwest have avoided involuntary furloughs entirely – even with the federal government no longer picking up the bulk of airline payroll.

  • Delta Air Lines got modest concessions from pilots, and non-union groups like flight attendants are shifting around the airline to pick up other work that had previously been done by contractors.

  • Southwest offered generous early retirement packages and leaves, and decided to cover more employees on payroll than they needed in anticipation of a return of air travel that didn’t materialize. Their commitment was not to furlough anyone in 2020.

In order for Southwest to continue to avoid furloughs they’ve said they need pay concessions unless, of course, the federal government again picks up the majority of the airline’s payroll. (Southwest received $3.3 billion for six months of payroll support and says they’re carrying an annual $1 billion too much in payroll. They need to generate half of that, or $500 million in savings, to keep everyone on staff. They’ll cover the rest.

One strategy that’s been discussed to generate more revenue from flight attendants is onboard co-brand credit card sales pitches which current work rules don’t provide for.

From the beginning Southwest unions have taken the position of full pay to the last day, which is another way of saying they don’t care about junior employees as long as senior employees don’t have to sacrifice. The airline needs some savings from everyone to keep everyone on board, or they’ll keep the most senior expensive employees at full pay. Those senior expensive employees don’t want to give up anything to benefit their colleagues.

The flight attendants union at Southwest is telling its members to expect WARN Act notices, but that those notices don’t mean anything.

  • In order to furlough employees Southwest must give 60 days’ notice.

  • They’ll do that if there’s no deal in place, even if one will eventually be forthcoming.

“Your negotiating team believes that the company will continue through the process of issuing notices of potential furloughs as required by the WARN Act, even if those notices are not followed by furloughs,” TWU Local 556 told members after an Oct. 27 negotiation session with the company. The union represents about 17,000 Southwest flight attendants.

Publicly the flight attendants union has been saying no to concessions, and also implying to members that the airline won’t go through with furloughs. That’s a dangerous position. It suggests Southwest is bluffing and will pay to remain fully overstaffed, while its competitors have succeeded in downsizing and when the airline has publicly told investors they’re unable to do that. It’s almost like they’re hiding from reality inside an overhead bin.

Meanwhile pilots and mechanics want an ironclad gaurantee that concessions will mean no 2021 furloughs – to date Southwest has caveated with a force majeure clause ‘barring unforeseen circumstances’ because this is 2020 and if this year was possible what giant meteor could 2021 bring?

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. Southwest could be bluffing after all they are in a much better financial position than American, Delta or United a point Southwest management made quite clear during the early stages of this pandemic.

    Southwest still has not sent out a single WARN letter which means on January 1st there will be no involuntary furloughs. Before October 1st Southwest’s tune was we can survive anything including this pandemic without furloughs. After October 1st Southwest management changed it tune and is now demanding concessions from the unions or threatening involuntary furloughs. I think the unions approach for now is correct you don’t discuss concessions when management has spent the better part of this crisis telling employees and the world they can manage this crisis without any concession or involuntary furloughs.

  2. If SW were to cut pay by 10% and that weren’t enough, then their next step would be to furlough. SW would never give back or increase wages to the original scale, so let them furlough now if need be.

  3. That is very poorly written. To say that the union is saying we don’t care about junior employees seems a little ignorant and combative. Maybe the union knows the company is hiding some finances or maybe the union knows that the company paid some retention bonuses to management? What about that.

  4. @Ed it doesn’t matter if the company is ‘hiding finances’ or can literally make payroll without furloughs, they will be losing money carrying employees they don’t have work for and will have to furlough to stem those losses. And it won’t matter if there were secret bonuses (where’s your proof), it doesn’t change anything.

  5. They can start furloughs in HQ with the large number of unnecessary positions made up for employees brought on from the AirTran “merger”
    Or furlough all the excessive middle management in each station.
    Or they could actually use the unions cost saving ideas instead of saying no thank you, we just want 10% of your pay.

  6. @Gary I think Ed is correct it would be foolish for any union to discuss concessions without having some of the facts. How does Southwest go from telling employees we can manage this crisis without concessions and furloughs to all of a sudden changing their tune at the start of Q4? Southwest continues to expand even in this crisis starting a whole host of flights from new addition airports. Southwest has an agreement with the municipal government in Colorado Springs which will pay Southwest several million dollars to start flights out of COS.

    Right now is not the time for any of Southwests unions to be discussing concessions especially when they don’t have all the facts. Southwest employees deserve the truth from management not threats of furloughs if they don’t give up pay.

  7. The company made the threat of pay cuts of 10% while middle seats were blocked. They will open in December.
    If a “topped out in pay cabin crew”, consisting of 4 flight attendants on an 800, that paid 2 “trips for pay”, which is about 1:45 minutes, and gave 10% of their pay back, that would be about $55, or so. 10% of a flight attendants pay annually is a big hit for someone making 50k to 75k p/yr. But one extra ticket sold, to fill one empty middle seat replaces a devastating pay cut, and then some. Meanwhile, the company is announcing service to new cities, on an extreme pace. So essentially, the company is asking the workers to pay for the expansion. Sorry, but the workers aren’t that stupid. Besides, how do you staff an expansion with furloughs? Blow-up dolls in the cockpit, like in the movie ,”Airplane”, and drink dispensers at the passengers’ seats, with A.I. to handle emergency procedures?

  8. I always wonder how many of the folks on here have ever managed a business, issued payroll, benefits, etc. I agree with Gary that it appears that the senior flight attendants don’t want to give up 10% to keep the juniors working. From our friends at AA the seniors don’t like the juniors because in their opinion they are lazy and don’t want to work. I think it’s a mistake for the airlines to ask the F/A;s to do anything. If I were running the airlines I’d setup an online voting app and they can vote to give up 10% or not. Majority rules. If not, I’d start cutting staff. If the union objected I’d just cut staff. I’d never negotiate with the union over management staffing. Not their business. If the unions were worth a damn they would try to get everyone to work for the common good. If my companies went union I’d sell them or shut them down. No way would I negotiate with people that probably couldn’t run an ice cream truck.

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