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Southwest Pilots Union Sues Carrier Over Working Conditions

Chicago, Illinois, USA - May 21, 2013: Southwest Airlines aircraft on the move with the Chicago skyline in the background. (Photo: iStock)

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association will take the Dallas-based airline to court on allegations of violating the Railway Labor Act due to working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The union argues that changing their contract during the pandemic is a violation of federal law.

Pilots working for Southwest Airlines say the airline broke the law when they made COVID-19 pandemic-related changes and are taking their claims to court. In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association (SWAPA) is suing the Dallas-based carrier over alleged violations of the Railway Labor Act.

Unionized Pilots Accuse Southwest Of Violating “Status Quo” of Contract

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines took drastic steps to cancel flights and ground aircraft to financially survive. However, SWAPA claims that the changes in working conditions, including rules and pilot pay, was an unapproved change to their contract. Specifically, the union claims Southwest attempted to circumvent their contract by implementing extended time off plans under an emergency.

“In the pandemic, the world became shuttered and air travel plummeted. Defendant Southwest Airlines, however, had contractual obligations to meet pay guarantees for its Pilot group,” the lawsuit states, noting that the collective bargaining agreement does not have a force majeure clause. “Its answer was to act as though it had force majeure rights by declaring an emergency and implementing an Emergency Time Off (“ETO”) program, and later an Emergency Extended Time Off (“ExTO”) program, that offered Pilots the option to not fly and not be paid in contravention to the terms and conditions of the CBA.”

In addition, the union claims while Southwest accepted billions through the Payroll Support Program as part of the CARES Act, the carrier still threatened to layoff workers. Attorneys for SWAPA claim that when the union would not support a 10 percent pay cut, they sent WARN Act notices to 1,221 unionized pilots.

“Defendant Southwest Airlines’ response to the cost of operating the airline in the pandemic was to shift that cost to its unionized labor,” the lawsuit states. “Despite its reassurances that employees will be paid for the company’s operational changes due to COVID, Defendant Southwest Airlines targeted Pilots.”

The union is seeking injunctive relief against the airline to enforce the current collective bargaining agreement in full. SWAPA also wants a judge to find that Southwest “violated its duty to maintain the status quo during a ‘major’ dispute” by not negotiating changes in pay, time off, or other working conditions.

The lawsuit is pending in the court, and no judgement has been made for either party. Southwest Airlines has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

Southwest Survives Pandemic With Record of Not Laying Off Workers

Although Southwest is the target of the lawsuit, the carrier stands by their record of never going through with layoffs during their 54-year history. Despite sending WARN notices to the pilots, the carrier was able to keep employees on the payroll through funds from the third federal fiscal stimulus bill.

Bowen74 September 20, 2021


mvoight September 6, 2021

articflyer, What does Bonvoy status and advance notice of Bonvoy promotions have to do with Southwest Airlines?

arcticflier September 2, 2021

I am a Bonvoy Palladium Elite and this Promotion is not appearing in “My Promotions”. Typically, us few PE members receive advance notice on any type of Promotion.

kayexalate August 31, 2021

Love the video at 0:56 where the guy throws a punch and knocks himself to the ground!