Pilots at Southwest Airlines are to open a regional strike headquarters in the airline’s home city of Dallas in an unprecedented move that brings aircrew at the carrier one step closer to going ahead with crippling strike action.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) has been locked in protracted contract talks with the carrier for years, but even federal mediation has failed to break the deadlock on a number of key areas, and now pilots have asked government officials for permission to strike.
The union must first gain permission from the National Mediation Board to be released into a 30-day cooling-off period before they can go on strike, but after seeking the help of mediators back in September 2022, SWAPA President Captain Casey Murray says there’s been little movement from Southwest.
The opening of a strike headquarters is a sign that the union is increasingly confident that the Biden administration will release the union from mediation and effectively allow a strike to go ahead.
“It is unfortunate that we have come to this place, but Southwest Airlines has to recognize the value of its employees and get back to taking care of them so that they will take care of the customer,” Captain Murray said on Wednesday.
“While none of us wants to go on strike, we are preparing for that path because Southwest simply has not shown that it is willing to invest the time, energy, and money into creating a better experience for us nor our customers.”
If the National Mediation Board goes ahead and releases the union into the mandatory cooling-off period within the next few days, pilots will be free to stage strike action over the busy Christmas travel period.
“As our negotiations linger and the holiday travel season approaches, we have to be prepared for a strike and that’s exactly what we are doing with the opening of these Centers,” Capt Murray explained.
A strike headquarters would allow the union to “watch and monitor the coming and going of both pilots and planes”, and SWAPA says it hopes the center will prove to Southwest that it is ready and capable of staging a strike.
Last month, the Southwest flight attendants’ union reached a tentative deal with the airline that will result in crew members receiving a 36% pay rise over the course of the proposed five-year contract.
The deal came after five years of talks and the threat of strike action that had marred the relationship between the airline and one of its biggest work groups.
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.