Pilots at Southwest Airlines have taken one step closer to strike action after their union formally asked on Thursday to be released from federal mediation that was aimed at breaking a deadlock with the airline over stalled contract negotiations.
Thousands of flight crew at the Dallas-based carrier voted so overwhelmingly in favor of strike action in May that the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) ended the ballot early because there was no point in keeping the vote open.
98% of SWAPA members cast their vote within the first 11 days of the ballot, and 99% voted in favor of authorizing a strike in a “historic” vote following three years of protracted contract talks, which have so far failed to make much progress.
Industrial relations between airlines and unionized employees are regulated under the Railway Labor Act and as part of a long and drawn-out process that could ultimately lead to a strike, both sides are also required to take part in mediation.
Southwest Airlines and SWAPA entered into mediation even before the strike vote last September, but the union now says this attempt to break the deadlock as run its course.
“It is an unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in today, however, our pilots have waited long enough for a contract,” commented SWAPA President Casey Murray on Thursday.
“We can no longer sit by as our fellow aviators are rewarded with industry-leading contracts and watch as we bleed qualified new hires to our competitors,” Murray continued.
“If released from mediation, our Pilot group will continue down the path afforded to us through the Railway Labor Act (RLA)”.
Murray said that he hoped Southwest would now make a “stronger commitment” to contract negotiators in light of the union’s request to exit mediation.
Strike authorization votes are commonplace in airline contract talks, and similar ballots took place at American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines before agreements were eventually reached.
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.