The Southwest Airlines pilots union has closed a strike authorization ballot early after its members voted so overwhelmingly in favor of supporting a walkout that there was no point in leaving the vote open.
According to the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, 98% of its members cast their vote within the first 11 days of the ballot, and 99% voted in favor of authorizing a strike.
The ‘historic’ ballot opened on May 1 and was originally meant to run through to May 31. The union said the timeframe would give customers time to book with other carriers.
After publishing the ballot results, SWAPA President Casey Murray said: “The lack of leadership and the unwillingness to address the failures of our organization have led us to this point.”
“Our pilots are tired of apologizing to our passengers on behalf of a company that refuses to place its priorities on its internal and external customers.”
The SWAPA union has been locked in contract negotiations with the Dallas-based carrier for the past three years, but little progress has been made in that time and the working relationship between the two sides is said to be at its nadir.
Although pilots have now overwhelmingly made their voices heard, any strike is still a long way off, and the union would have to clear several difficult hurdles before a walkout is possible.
Industrial relations between airlines and unionized employees are regulated under the Railway Labor Act, and the Southwest pilots union will now have to petition the National Mediation Board to release its members to conduct ‘self-help’.
This is a lengthy process that can be delayed by multiple legal challenges and is ultimately decided at a high-up political level. In reality, the actual chance of pilots at any U.S. airline going on strike is incredibly low, although not entirely impossible.
Nonetheless, Murray cautioned on Thursday: “We want our customers to be prepared for the path ahead and make arrangements on other carriers so that their plans through the summer and fall are not disrupted.”
Southwest Airlines said it didn’t anticipate any disruption over the summer.
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.