Southwest Airlines has sued its mechanics’ union, alleging that the union is engaging in an illegal work slowdown.
For the last few weeks, mechanics have taken far more aircraft out of service than usual, citing maintenance concerns. Southwest has a total of 752 Boeing 737s in its fleet. Historically, about 14 aircraft are taken out of service each day for maintenance reasons. Southwest claims it can handle up 35 grounded aircraft and still operate a full schedule. But over the last month, mechanics have pulled up to 62 planes from service per day. This has led to about 100 flight cancellations a day, every day.
Southwest blames the issues on its contract negotiations with mechanics, not the airworthiness of its fleet. It adds that many aircraft have been taken out of service for minor issues that do not affect the airworthiness.
The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) issued a statement warning Southwest that to “intimidate, threaten, restrain, coerce, blacklist, discharge, or in any other manner discriminate against an employee” who seeks to perform his work in conformance with federal aviation standards is against federal law.
At the same time, the AMFA warned its members not to “get baited into acts of defiance” that would only backfire. In fact, it even more explicitly warned that “members are unequivocally instructed to refrain from any collective actions” without the explicit direction of the union. You can read the full statement here.
Meanwhile, Russell McCrady, Southwest’s Vice President of Labor Relations, tried to appeal to both sides:
Yesterday’s action does not alter our goal of reaching an agreement that benefits our hardworking maintenance employees, nor does it change the company’s unwavering commitment to safety. We will not stray from our focus on rewarding our mechanics, while we work to shield our employees and customers from unnecessary disruptions within the operation.
The union did not respond.
This isn’t the first time Southwest has sued its mechanics. In 2017, Southwest sued its mechanics after the union advised its members to boycott overtime work. That lawsuit is still pending. Whether or not this is a labor ploy, the lawsuit ratchets up tensions between the two sides. Without further knowledge about why the aircraft were pulled out of service, we cannot know if the mechanics are playing games. But my guess is that Southwest would not have sued if flights weren’t being canceled for inoperative coffee pots and overhead lights…
Have you been impacted by the uptick in cancellations on Southwest?
image: Stephen M. Keller / Southwest