Southwest Airlines expanded its threat to involuntarily lay-off workers for the first time in the company’s history on Wednesday with official WARN notices being sent out to 403 more workers. The airline’s chief executive Gary Kelly urged unionized workers to accept a temporary 10 per cent pay cut in October but talks have shown little progress and lay-offs could be implemented in early January if the two sides fail to reach an agreement.
Last week, Southwest sent warning notices to workers who manage parts inventory at the Dallas-based airline and on Wednesday the same notices were delivered to Aircraft Maintenance Technicians, Facilities Maintenance Technicians, and Aircraft Appearance Technicians.
The decision to put aircraft mechanics on notice of impending furlough came on the same day that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave the troubled Boeing 737MAX aircraft the green light to return to the skies. Southwest has 34 MAX aircraft in its fleet, which have all been grounded since March 2019.
Kelly said on Wednesday that getting the 737MAX ready for commercial operation would require “thousands of hours of work, inspections, and the software updates”. Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest pilots association said the airline’s decision to furlough mechanics would “surely harm the confidence of our passengers when we need them the most.”
While major U.S. airlines have collectively furloughed around 38,000 employees since October 1, Southwest managed to avoid lay-offs through a significant uptake on voluntary schemes. But with travel demand not recovering at the rate Southwest had been hoping, the airline now says it has 20 per cent more employees than it needs.
Kelly had been hoping to avoid furloughs through a temporary 10 per cent pay cut for all unionized employees telling workers they had to “sacrifice more” to get through the Corona crisis without the need for furloughs.
“It’s unfortunate we had to move forward with this outcome, as the affected employees are valued members of the Southwest family,” commented Russell McCrady, Southwest’s vice president of labor relations in an internal email.
“We need agreements to be reached to help us save these employees’ jobs and address the extremely challenging economic conditions we face,” McCrady continued.
The AMFA union, however, said Southwest’s plans are in violation of a collective labor agreement and vowed to legally challenge the airline’s furlough plans. Other unions, including the flight attendant association, are expected to be issued WARN notices within weeks unless progress is made in negotiations.
The only way out, Kelly says, is an extension of a federal payroll support program which finished on October 1. Congress has so far failed to agree a CARES Act extension and talks are currently suspended.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently used by some of the biggest names in journalism.