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Southwest Braces for First Layoffs in Airline History

Southwest Braces for First Layoffs in Airline History
Joe Cortez

The holiday season may not be so bright for Southwest Airlines employees, as the Dallas-based carrier prepares to part ways with around 10 percent of their workforce. Around 7,000 employees have received WARN notices from the carrier, all affecting customer-facing workers.

Southwest Airlines’ history of avoiding layoffs may be coming to an end, as the carrier is now considering reducing their workforce. USA Today reports the airline has sent 6,828 Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notices to customer-facing employees, including pilots, flight attendants and gate agents.

Ten-Percent Workforce Cut Carved out of Customer Service Corps

The WARN notices were sent to employees working in customer service, representing just over 10 percent of their workforce of 58,000. The potentially affected workers include:

  • 2,551 airport ramp agents, provisioning agents, operations workers and cargo handlers
  • 1,500 flight attendants
  • 1,221 pilots
  • 1,176 customer service agents

During the airline’s third quarter financial report, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said they would work with union leaders on “reasonable, temporary concessions” to prevent furloughs due to a lack of business during the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of 2021. Additionally, Kelly said that if Congress were to pass a “phase four” support bill with additional Payroll Support Program funds, there would be no need for layoffs. With both scenarios unresolved, the airline appeared to place the blame on the unions for a lack of support.

“Our absolute goal is to preserve every job at Southwest Airlines,” Russel McCrady, vice president of labor relations at Southwest, said in a statement, as quoted by USA Today. “However, due to a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations, we had to proceed with issuing notifications to additional employees who are valued members of the Southwest family.”

In a public response, Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association president Jon Weaks called the event a “sad milestone in the company’s history.” The leader of the pilot’s union reassured employees that they are committed to work with the company to save jobs.

“There are many factors that Mr. Kelly still must consider,” Weaks said in the video, distributed on Twitter. “Another potential round of federal aid; the speed of distribution and efficacy of at least three vaccines set for approval before the end of the year; and a loss of strategic opportunities that a furlough would cause.

“But most importantly, he once and for all put a dollar value on 49 years of Southwest Airlines culture and its commitment to our pilots who are part of its employee family,” he continued. “$220 million.”

Although the WARN notices doesn’t guarantee furloughs, the airline says employees could be let go by either March 15 or April 1, 2021. Under union agreements, Southwest must offer furloughs so that employees can be recalled if and when business improves.

Layoff Announcement Comes as Congress Considers Smaller Phase Four Bill

Southwest’s announcement comes as Capitol Hill is once again discussing a “phase four” bill which would offer additional funds to the airline industry, which is still reeling from a lack of flyers grounded by COVID-19. Reuters reports the latest support bid going before Congress would grant an additional $20 billion to airlines, which would be used as payroll support funds.

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1 Comment

  1. FlyingEgghead

    December 4, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    I think the headline should say “Airline’s History” to make clear that it’s the history of this one airline. “Airline History” sounds like it’s the first time in the history of the airline industry.

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