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Southwest Pilots Sue Airline in ‘Major Dispute’ Over Working Conditions and Pandemic Wages

Southwest Pilots Sue Airline in ‘Major Dispute’ Over Working Conditions and Pandemic Wages

Southwest Airlines has taken a cavalier attitude towards its pilots and used the pandemic to impose changes to working conditions and pay, a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Dallas by the pilots union alleges.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) claims the airline illegally granted itself “force majeure” rights as the pandemic struck in order to make changes to the terms and conditions of its pilots.

SWAPA says Southwest never had the right to make unilateral changes and any pandemic-related alterations to the terms that pilots were working under should have been first been bargained through the union.

Much of the dispute centers around Southwest’s Infectious Disease Control Policy that in effect “significantly altered the working conditions, rules, and rates for pay for Pilots” according to the lawsuit.

The union claims Southwest didn’t have the right to declare an emergency at the height of the first wave of COVID-19 and implement an Emergency Time Off program for pilots without first agreeing on the policy with SWAPA.

The union also takes issue with Southwest’s decision to tell pilots who may have been a close contact with a COVID-19 case to go into mandatory quarantine. The lawsuit alleges the policy was used to avoid paying pilots for work trips.

Southwest’s “illegal tactics are a form of asymmetrical warfare in negotiations,” the lawsuit alleges. “If unrestrained, Defendant’s (Southwest’s) illegal tactics will cause irreparable harm to SWAPA and the pilots it represents”.

Russell McCrady, Southwest’s vice president of labor relations disagrees, however, with SWAPA’s claims that any COVID-related changes imposed by the airline required negotiation with the union.

“As always, Southwest remains committed to Pilots’ health and welfare and to working with SWAPA, and our other union partners, as we continue navigating the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic,” McCrady said on Tuesday.

“The Safety of our Employees and Customers remains paramount at all times, and Southwest has a demonstrated legacy of putting Employees first in our decisions – including maintaining our 50-year history of no Employee furloughs or layoffs throughout the pandemic.”

SWAPA is seeking an injunction against Southwest, asking the court to order the airline to stick to the terms of a collective labor agreement. The CBA lapsed last August but should remain in force until a new agreement is reached between the two sides.

The union recently threatened to picket the airline over the winter because of the failure to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, as well as the possibility that Southwest could mandate COVID-19 vaccines for pilots.

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