With more than 100 flights canceled so far this week, Southwest Airlines is still battling it out with its mechanics.
Amid a fiery back-and-forth between the airline’s mechanics and upper management, Southwest has entered a state of “operational emergency” after over 40 of its fleet were out of commission (more than double the average on a typical day) last week. And things have only worsened from there.
“We suddenly find ourselves in a period of tension and turmoil surrounding out-of-service aircraft for maintenance and AMFA (Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association union) contract negotiations,’” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a memo to employees late Friday.
For the past week, they’ve held the top spot for most canceled flights in the industry. Capping off a weekend in which the airline had already canceled more than 300 flights and 1,000 delays, Southwest canceled an additional 131 flights, which accounts for about 3% of its schedule, on Monday.
The conflict has been ongoing, but things really escalated Friday, Feb. 22, when Southwest’s Chief Legal Officer Mark Shaw singled out a group of about 100 mechanics that were responsible for the bulk of out of operation planes. In a letter to mechanics union representatives in four cities, he wrote:
“Based on all the information that we have received this week, we believe there is a concerted, ongoing effort by a subset of mechanics at various stations to negatively impact Southwest’s operations by writing up maintenance issues that are not based on safety issues and historical practice. As a result, we are writing to seek your affirmative action to put a quick end to any such unlawful activity.”
In response to this, the AMFA union’s attorney Nick Granath said Southwest executives should be not be blaming maintenance issues on the union. “The company appears to continue to attempt to hide a degraded maintenance safety culture behind contract negotiations with AMFA,” said Granath in a letter later that same day. “This is deplorable and represents a real danger to your employees and your passengers.”
However, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly also penned a letter with a more conciliatory tone that Friday. He wrote, “Our Mechanics are extraordinary. I am proud of them, and they have been especially heroic in getting aircraft returned to service over the last two weeks. They deserve all of our thanks.” Kelly also said that the mechanics, who previously turned down a contract offer last fall that had what he claimed to be “the highest pay rate among commercial airlines,” are entitled to a new contract.
Contract negotiations between mechanics and the airline have been on-going since 2012. However, it’s important to note that Southwest is known to also outsource its maintenance.
H/T: USA Today
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