Southwest Asks For Labor Concessions, Their Biggest Union Responds ‘Full Pay Until The Last Day’

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
Southwest Airlines
2702 Love Field Drive
Dallas, Texas 75235

Dear Gary,

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.

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, 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. This is why unions are so hated, the airlines industry is down ~95%, and they don’t give a shit.

  2. As one who has served in corporate positions to negotiate union contracts and fight unionization, including with the Teamsters, I find my sympathies have clearly moved over to labor.

    So much of corporate leadership acts as if they’re “brain dead,” particularly in the commercial airlines. How can they even discuss layoffs, furloughs, etc before even coming to the table to evidence credibility by cutting or holding in abeyance their salaries–all of it, including stock? Pouring gas on the fire, these same executives think short term, and not towards building loyalty in the rank and file, e.g., outsourcing maintenance.

    The very last issue of concern for these execs is customer experience; including seat comfort for the majority of heavier Americans; quality of food above the standards of a county jail, etc.

  3. I think that’s a smart move by the union. Their offer of non concession strategy discussion seems like one to start now to see if they can shed at least some cost. October will come soon enough.

  4. This is why unions are bad for industry they don’t give a shit. What they don’t want their members and the general public is actually what they cost their workers and the company. Force them to make full disclosure and see what happens. As a construction contractor that is union in some states and non in others there is a huge difference, in costs 37% on average that is passed on to the consumer.

  5. Hopefully SW (and other airlines) immediately fire the union reps and any other troublemakers on 10/1. Would serve them right. So let me understand – maybe agreeing to a TEMPORARY 10% reduction for union members is a worse option than having 10-20% of the workforce fired 10/1. You would think from a self serving standpoint the union would agree to concessions provided they got assurances to limit the firings after 10/1 since that would mean they have a larger base to pay their dues.

    Oh well no one every claimed unions were very smart.

  6. Yep, let the workers be paid minimum wages, unpaid overtime and zero benefits. Dividends and management bonuses über alles! (And F passenger safety & comfort).

  7. @ john — I guess you would have them take a 95% pay cut? Maybe the executives should go first.

  8. If I may be pedantic for a moment, I’ve always heard the phrase as “_max_ pay to the last day.” Either way, they are idiots.

    Anyway, Southwest is a shadow of Herb’s airline. I used to fly WN transcons several times a year. It has been years since I have flown WN and last year I finally cancelled my unused WN visa. Why? For my CAFL I can literally find 1st class on Delta for less than WN.

  9. I have many ex-USAF buds that now are pilots for the major airlines. I don’t know what the future holds for them, but right now things for most of them are VERY GOOD as they’re flying very little yet they’re still getting paid for their guaranteed minimum monthly flying hours (for example AA guarantees 73 hrs/mo, at up to $342/hr for 777 Captains). Most of them are actually working a small fraction of what they’d normally work, but are still collecting their massive monthly paychecks.

  10. Wait a minute, airlines bleed the corporation constantly for years, offering an ever-worsening passenger experience and the ‘troops’ are supposed to leap forward to sacrifice for the good of the company?
    How about some claw back from the benefit-laden, entitled, stock-optioned upper execs? SW is far from the worst among any, but airlines long ago quit accepting any public responsibility. Post-pandemic there just may be some brave new developments that would benefit more than the top — good heavens, even including passengers!

  11. The author of this letter is John Samuelsen the union leader who finally got American Airlines mechanics and ramp workers a fair contract after standing up to AA president Isom in January.

  12. As a former Eastern Airlines and the original Midway Airlines, this “Full pay until the last day” line of thinking is foolish to say the least. Nobody wants to lose any money, but a temporary loss is a lot easier in the long run than to destroy the company and put 60,000 plus people out of work. In the end, you get nothing. No satisfaction while trying to find another job and having to start all over.

  13. I’m not sure what everyone is so worked up over. As Gary has reported, the bailout money the airlines are getting more than covers what they would have saved by furlough’s. If they get another bailout it’s a non-issue to the unions or the airlines. It certainly isn’t urgent. Management has pitched an option to the unions, because SW has a longstanding history of no layoffs that they would like to continue. And not surprisingly, the union has rejected it.
    If there is no bailout the union will grant concessions or the furloughs will come, perhaps along with some early retirement offers. Profit sharing which was worth 2 months pay, will be gone. As always the lowest paid, lowest paid seniority people will be the first to go. The longtimers dominate union leadership and would sooner keep theirs than share any sacrifices. People can whine about the stock and options management gets, but when unions have been offered equity rather than cash, they don’t want any part of it.

  14. I do think that if management wants rank and file employees to make concessions such as cuts in pay I think that management should be legally required to make at least equal if not greater sacrifices. By that I mean as an example, if management is asking rank and file employees to take a 20 percent pay cut then management should be legally required to take a pay cut of no less than (and ideally greater than) 20 percent.

  15. Think about that phrase touted by Union bosses, “Max pay to the last day”. Only one that phrase really benefits is the Union bosses and their representatives. Last day, you are out of a job, on unemployment (should be fun at this time), and then you have to start all over again, bottom of the heap. Sound like it will be well worth it doesn’t it? Meanwhile, what do you think those Union bosses will be doing?

  16. The president of TWU is a loser anyway. There was no vote from the union members WHICH THE UNION REPRESENTS. I hope SWA shoves it right back to TWU and lays off hundreds of people, or better yet next contract negotiation say “Sorry. No flexibility for you.”

  17. When times are good the Airlines drag their feet to negotiate and settle contracts but once things go bad they turn to employees for sacrifice. Time for these overpaid executives to start managing the company. For the last 10 years they have raked in record profits with very little creative management. The employees should not sacrifice for their substandard performance.

  18. Be sure to let us know how that tune works for you while you look for another job.

  19. So all the majors have made huge profits and what did they do with those? Stock buybacks and Corp bonuses
    F them I side with the union 110% stay strong

  20. I’m reading g some horrible remarks against unions… you have no idea how greedy corporations have become, not truly caring about even their passengers let alone their employees, gouging wherever they can, caring for THEIR PERSONAL PROFITS/GAINS/BONUSES & the STOCKHOLDERS -PERIOD. REST ASSURED Southwest is NOT in a bad position…

  21. Sandra Hartnell, keep on biting the hand that feeds you. Hope you get satisfaction from that while you look for another job. My experience with having to start over, at the bottom, not once but twice, is that I would much rather had made a TEMPORARY concession in the form of a pay cut than lose the whole paycheck. No Airline, or any other business, could have been prepared for this. To make the statement that Southwest is “NOT” in a bad position, shows exactly where you are coming from. You do not appear to understand that it is “Paying Passengers” who pay your salary. The reduced service and lack of paying passengers will not do that. And, yet, you accuse the airlines of being “greedy”. Look in the mirror to see who is being greedy here.

  22. What happened to the bailout funds that were allocated for employee payroll purposes ONLY?
    Where did all that money go?

  23. Unless you work for this company and know all the ins and outs of each union contract then your comments are irrelevant , also I notice other groups were left out , maybe they shout be asking for equal concessions across the board after all they are all in this together

  24. If I was their union, I would sue this blogger for putting words in their mouth. At no point did they say “Max pay to the last day” so putting that in the headline is clickbait and meant to engender a negative response toward the union. What they did say was that there are a lot of non-concessionary options to explored first, so talks of concessions at thus time are premature. Which is a reasonable response. Biased “reporting” at its finest here folks.

  25. For those of you who have no idea how tainted the relationship has become between unions and management, perhaps you can educate yourself and watch this video:

    The days and culture of Herb and Colleen are long gone. Gary and co have lied and broken promises too many times to give them any more benefits of the doubt. Trust me when I say, that they would take the concessions AND furlough come Oct. They’re good at using all the SWA rhetoric to tug at your heartstrings and then flip you the middle finger on the way out, laughing.
    Regarding the one comment above about management making an equal pay cut in salary is laughable- watch the video I linked above. That’s not how these CEO’s make their money. 20% in salary is peanuts based on the stock buyback bonuses. Which for the record, SWA spent $11B in buybacks over the last 5 years. Pretty sure that amount of money could have weathered this storm without concessions or furloughs.
    I believe SWA will weather this storm, but it will be smaller in my opinion then before the pandemic…and it didn’t have to be that way. It wasn’t the unions that wanted the culture destroyed. We have busted our asses for our company and customers for years. It was greed from the top that brought us down when they strayed away from the philosophy Herb so strongly held: “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of Wall St.” It’s a sad day 🙁

  26. The airlines are all coming off of some very good years! And what did they do? They squandered their good fortunes with billions in stock buy backs! While the unions on average probably spent five years getting a contract that would bring them back to pre 911 levels! Stay strong TWU, IAM, TEAMSTERS, you are the ones who pulled the train for all American workers!

  27. Interesting to see all the union bashing. That is pure ignorance. Did you know the union workers only making a fair negotiated rate? They are your neighbors and friends that get up and go to work every day. They don’t get rich. They get by. Why should they work for low wages and no healthcare. Their jobs provide them with decent pay and usually healthcare so they are. It a burden on society or the taxpayers. Corporate wants them to take pay cuts while they take in million dollar salaries. Is that really fair. I for one do t think so.

  28. Love all those who side with the rich out of touch execs who take their big fat paychecks, bonuses, stock options and bitch when people won’t cut their pay so the top guys can hang on to all their perks because they’re so valuable.
    For you those crying for the corporate heads, glad all you want is to see the rich get richer and working folks get crap. Givebacks just mean management got you and they’ll come back for more. The Union is doing right by not rolling over and playing dead.

  29. Companies that squandered tens of billions of dollars on stock buybacks, that then turn to taxpayers for government funded bailouts (aka corporate welfare/ corporate socialism, etc.) surely have forfeited the right to demand any sympathy, much less further and undue sacrifices, from either employees or the consumers who were treated like crap in good times without first leading by example by committing themselves to SHARED SACRIFICES, along with a binding commitment going forward to a far more balanced approach to ALL stakeholders (fare paying passengers, employees & shareholders) instead of the abject greed and arrogance that the obscenely generous, outsized stock buybacks in recent years speaks to.

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