United Airlines took a public approach telling all employees they expect to need fewer staff going forward and releasing the letter to media.
Southwest was more circumspect, holding private discussions with union leaders about how to avoid layoffs in the fall. They told unions that without concessions they expect to have to furlough employees.
The Transportation Workers Union, which represents Southwest’s flight attendants; flight crew training instructors; dispatchers and meteorlogists; ramp, operations, provisioning and freight agents went public with a rejection.
April 16, 2020
Gary Kelly, President
2702 Love Field Drive
Dallas, Texas 75235
I’ve been informed that last week Southwest requested that the Transport Workers Union (TWU) represented Locals, 550, 555, 556 and 557 open and/or negotiate concessions into our members’ contracts. While we certainly understand that Southwest management wants to explore how the company moves forward, the TWU has no interest in regressing from our current negotiated contracts. We have no interest in concessions. We have fought for years to improve our members’ livelihoods and we will robustly continue to do so.
If the company is interested in discussing a seniority based voluntary early out, a paid leave program, or other non concessionary options, which present our members with voluntary opportunities – we are certainly willing to listen. We believe the long term savings from these types of voluntary actions can easily exceed the cost savings you recently proposed. Furthermore, the grant money Southwest Airlines is receiving from the CARES Act now provides you with the necessary time to rethink your ill-advised proffer of contract concessions. On balance, we believe Southwest Airlines is the best positioned and most financially viable airline in the United States and to make a concessionary demand of the TWU is totally unwarranted.
The Transport Workers Union of America, and our Local union leaders at Southwest, stand ready to discuss our proposed non concessionary solutions. Let us know if you want to pursue that conversation.
John Samuelsen Mike Mayes
Southwest’s mechanics, who worked to disrupt the airline’s operations a year ago before getting a new contract, are represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association not by TWU and not covered by this letter.
Interestingly it’s AMFA that’s perhaps most famous for “full pay until the last day” stances – no concessions, even if it brings down the company. TWU-IAM has criticized AMFA for it in part because the position hasn’t had credibility. TWU’s current head though believes in confrontation as a bargaining tactic.
In this case however what to expect isn’t the demise of Southwest, it’s a choice between letting some workers go or lowering labor costs. Depending on how the airline industry recovers (or doesn’t) it could mean both.
I expect we’re going to see 5 months of posturing, because the federal government has taken away any credibility of the threat of furloughs until October 1 as a requirement of the bailout. As a result there’s no reason for unions to agree to concessions now, and they can wait and see how the world develops.
Southwest might argue that earlier concessions would leave the company in better shape, reducing the pressure for layoffs and the need for even deeper cuts later. However there’s no reason to believe that savings between now and the fall would be used entirely to offset required deeper savings later.