Southwest Pilots Poised To Strike As Union Calls Authorization Vote

by | Jan 20, 2023

The hits keep coming for Southwest Airlines. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the union representing the airline’s pilot, has announced a strike authorization vote scheduled for May 1, 2023.

If successful, it could allow the union to call a strike over the peak summer travel season. The union cites management failures during the airline’s Christmas travel meltdown as a key reason for authorizing a potential strike but says it is one of the reasons for the decision.

Southwest Airlines Pilots Union Calls Strike Authorization Vote

The Southwest pilots union is calling a strike authorization vote on May 1, 2023. The announcement comes as pressure piles on Southwest Airlines management amid the airline’s Christmas meltdown and failure to come to an agreement with pilots.

The union released the following statement and they certainly don’t hold back in their criticism.

Today, SWAPA President Captain Casey Murray issued a call for a Strike Authorization Vote from the Association’s membership. This historic action on the part of the pilot union comes in the wake of Southwest’s largest meltdown and the utter lack of meaningful progress on a contract negotiation, with scheduling work rules and information technology asks in particular, that has been ongoing for more than three years.

Captain Murray stated, “While your Board of Directors and Executive Officers have had many strategic discussions on timing, I think it is best to consider what our customers have been through over the past several years and the past several weeks. It was the lack of discussion or commitment by our leadership team to rectify these issues for our passengers and our pilots that drove us to make the decision to carry forward on this path afforded to us by the Railway Labor Act.”

The vote will take place beginning on May 1 and will ultimately give the pilots the ability to strike once released to self-help. Murray continued, “We believe that May 1 provides a date that allows our union time to prepare and gives our customers time to book elsewhere, so that they can have confidence that their summer vacations, honeymoons, and family outings are assured.”

The vote will be counted at the end of May. Murray also stated, “It is not a decision we have taken lightly, but given the trajectory of our current leadership group, we have little faith in the stability and future of our airline.”

Union leadership also released a video statement.

Southwest Christmas Meltdown

For what it’s worth, the pilots have reason to be irate at company management. While a massive winter storm caused flight disruptions for many airlines during the holiday season, it was Southwest’s internal software systems that seem to have turned a normal problem into an astonishing disaster.

The airline’s outdated computer systems were not able to handle the complex scheduling required to get planes, pilots and flight crews in the right place at the right time.

The result was a nightmare for travelers and employees alike. Families with young children were stranded at the airport, flight attendants and pilots slept on floors, and vast piles of luggage were stuck in the wrong airport. Frustrated travelers were stuck on hold for hours, and many bags were never reunited with their owners. Southwest even called police on its own customers. Southwest CEO, Bob Jordan, was MIA for days and appeared only to compare the airline’s debacle to a “giant puzzle” that needs to be solved.

The meltdown is expected to have a major financial impact on Southwest with a pre-tax loss of between $725 million and $825 million expected for the fourth quarter despite earlier forecasts predicting a strong profit.

The costs include lost revenue as well as the costs of reimbursing customers and offering Rapid Rewards points as an apology. Southwest estimates that the revenue loss from the disruptions will be between $400 million and $425 million. This is a significant hit for the airline which had not reported a quarterly loss in over a decade.

The operational failure has significantly damaged the airline’s reputation for reliable customer service with criticism coming from every quarter. The White House said Southwest “failed its customers” and that the government would seek to fine the airline if it doesn’t properly reimburse people for their losses. Southwest is also being sued for not providing refunds to stranded passengers. Still, having your own pilots president tell customers he wouldn’t fly Southwest has to sting for management.

Strike Vote

Amidst all the chaos, Southwest has failed to come to an agreement with pilots on a new contract. With a massive pilot shortage across the industry, pilots have options, and it’s not surprising that the pilots union is taking steps towards a potential strike.

The vote is set to be held on May 1st for a potential strike over the busy summer travel season. The union is twisting the needle for management by urging customers to consider booking elsewhere if they want to get to their destinations reliably this summer.

Southwest counters that the union’s statement “does not affect Southwest’s operation or our ability to take care of our Customer.” The airline also plans to continue following the process outlined in the Railway Labor Act and work with the National Mediation Board towards reaching an agreement that rewards its pilots and places them competitively in the industry. Under the act, the process of striking as an airline employee is heavily restricted.

Bottom line

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the union representing the airline’s pilots, has announced a strike authorization vote scheduled for May 1, 2023. The union cites management failures during the airline’s Christmas travel meltdown as one of many reasons for the decision. While strikes by airline employees are limited by the Railway Labor Act, this is the first step towards a potential strike over this summer. The pilot’s union is suggesting that customers look elsewhere for flights this summer if they value getting to their destinations reliably, only a thinly veiled threat to management as the union seeks get them back to the table for negotiations.

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