The Southwest Airlines pilots union is suing the airline for, it says, making unilateral changes to pilot pay and working conditions without bargaining with the union. That sounds bad, because we know there’s a union contract, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Southwest and its pilots are in negotiations over a new contract. Until one is agreed to (or the federal government releases either party to strike or lock the other out) the current contract remains in force even after being expired.
So what did Southwest do? Southwest Airlines did not furlough any employees at all during the pandemic. Neither did Delta. American and United furloughed roughly 35,000 between them, though United worked out a deal with its pilots not to furlough anyone (by, in part, giving customer upgrade seats away to pilots instead).
- One of the ways Southwest avoided furloughs is by offering pilots voluntary unpaid leave. The union says the airline should have had to bargain to offer this to pilots, none of which were required to accept. The union calls this “withholding pay.”
- Pilots who were exposed to Covid-19 were required to quarantine, so they missed trips and lost pay.
From the airline’s perspective, it was entitled to take these actions under the force majeure clause of the contract. According to the airline,
“Southwest remains committed to Pilots’ health and welfare and to working with SWAPA, and our other union partners, as we continue navigating the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic,” McCrady said. “The Safety of our Employees and Customers remains paramount at all times, and Southwest has a demonstrated legacy of putting Employees first in our decisions – including maintaining our 50-year history of no Employee furloughs or layoffs throughout the pandemic.”
Southwest’s pilots union has been strongly opposed to requiring vaccines, and wants the airline to offer more money to pilots who do get shots.