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Lawsuits & Litigation

Southwest Airlines Pilots Union Sues Carrier for Harsh Working Conditions, Reduced Benefits

— August 31, 2021

The lawsuit states that Southwest Benefits changed pilots’ contracts and working hours without first negotiating with their union.

A Southwest Airlines pilots union has filed a lawsuit against the carrier, challenging changes made to regular working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Reuters, the lawsuit was filed Monday in a Dallas federal court.

In their complaint, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said the carrier had implemented an “emergency time off” program, altered pilots’ schedules, and scaled back prescription drug and retirement benefits.

These changes, say the Pilots Association, were made without collective bargaining.

Rather than making a unilateral decision, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association contends that the carrier should have engaged in collective bargaining with the union.

The lawsuit notes that, in mid-May, Southwest changed the terms of its Infectious Disease Control Policy from stating that pilots “will be paid” for missing work due to COVID-19, to saying that employees “may” be paid.

Image via Brian/Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-2.0)

The union claims that Southwest’s moves against pilots’ benefits are intended to intimidate employees, or otherwise gain leverage over them in continuing negotiations.

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

The lawsuit observes that Southwest’s management, meanwhile, has continued to insulate itself from the pandemic.

“While management employees protected themselves by closing down headquarter offices to work from home and meeting virtually, pilots, along with other front-line workers, did not have that option,” the lawsuit states.

“As hundreds of flights were being (and continued to be) canceled and Pilots are being overworked on the line and stranded overnight, all the while still at risk of COVID, and ever more with the Delta and Lambda strains, SWAPA has been vocal in demanding action by management,” the suit reads.

Reuters suggests that the lawsuit is the latest escalation in a long-running dispute between the airline and its staff. Southwest pilots have already said they might hold a general strike over the winter holidays, in protest of their difficult work schedules and reduced food and accommodation options.

The protest, says Reuters, has already prompted Southwest to change its fall flight schedule to better align with its predicted staffing.

Nonetheless, Southwest’s vice president of labor relations, Russell McCrady, told Business Insider that the company made its decisions with employees’ health and best interests in mind.

“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. “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.”


Pilots union sues Southwest Airlines, alleges violation of federal labor law

Southwest Airlines pilots are suing the airline, claiming the company withheld pay in violation of the union contract

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