Southwest Airlines issued furlough warning notices to over 6,800 workers on Thursday after the airline said it had reached an impasse with labor unions on talks to temporarily slash wages by 10 per cent. The Dallas-based airline said it urgently needed to lower its costs as it sought to survive the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the concessions it was asking for would help avoid any lay-offs.
Southwest has never had to furlough employees in its near 50-year history but on Thursday the carrier notified employees that as many as 6,828 employees could now face redundancy.
Affected employees include more than 1,200 pilots, around 1,500 flight attendants, 1,110 customer service staff, as well as 2,500 ramp, cargo and other operations staff. Potentially affected workers were informed via federally mandated WARN notices.
If Southwest goes through with its threat, the furloughs would take effect from either March 15 or April 1. A WARN notice starts a 60-day clock before furloughs can take place.
A proposed extension of federal payroll support for aviation employees, however, would lift the threat of furlough and reverse any concessions that unions agree to.
In a statement, the union that represents Southwest’s flight attendants said it had put forward various cost-saving ideas but the company had rejected its proposals. The Local 556 branch of the Transport Workers Union had previously complained that the 10 per cent wage cut was closer to 20 per cent in reality because of a loss of flying hours owing to the pandemic.
And in a video message, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Associations, Jon Weaks said: “Today marks a sad milestone in the history of Southwest Airlines… while this development is not entirely surprising, it is incredibly disappointing to our pilots and their families.”
In November, Southwest issued WARN notices to a few hundred employees working in engineering and maintenance after it said negotiations with unions had broken down. It was widely that Southwest would issue more furlough notices if unions refused to agree to the airline’s demands.
If Southwest goes ahead with the maximum number of furloughs, the layoffs would represent 12 per cent of the airline’s entire workforce.
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 relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.