Southwest Pilots Union Calls for May Vote on Possible Strike

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Union is urging members to vote for a possible strike following a disruption last month that caused hundreds of thousands of people to miss flights during the holiday season.

In a statement to union members on Wednesday, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association wrote that the action was motivated by failed contract negotiations as well as scheduling problems that impacted pilots and led to widespread disruption to the airline.

Casey Murray, the union’s president, said the pilots had pressured the airline to make changes, but there had been little progress.

We’ve seen crash after crash, and as we move forward, we think we can work together and really try to fix some of those shortcomings,” Murray said.

This inefficiency, he says, boils down to four problems: outdated information technology, infrastructure problems, lack of airline support for pilots, and an imperfect process for connecting them to flights.

The vote will take place in May, after which the National Board of Mediation will try to broker an agreement between Southwest and its pilots.

Murray said he was confident the members would vote to strike. But Michael Boyd, head of the aviation consulting group, said it was likely that the airline and the union would come to an agreement on a contract before the strike began.

“They will sit at the negotiating table and say, ‘Look, if it comes down to it, our members voted so we could go on strike, so keep that in mind,’” Boyd said. “And that puts more pressure on the company.”

Southwest Airlines and its pilots union are set to resume negotiations next Tuesday.

The airline has come under fire for its response to last month’s cancellations and delays, which lasted about a week at the end of December. Shareholders filed a class action lawsuit last week and as of Wednesday, clients have filed at least four lawsuits.

The airline told its customers via email Monday that it will spend more than $1 billion to improve its IT systems and is working with aviation consulting firm Oliver Wyman to evaluate its response to the December crash.

Adam Carlisle, vice president of labor relations at Southwest Airlines, wrote in a statement that the union’s call for a vote on authorization would not impact airline operations.

“We will continue to follow the process set out in the Railroad Labor Act and work with the assistance of the National Council to mediate an agreement that will reward our pilots and make them competitive in the industry,” the statement said.

Any advice? Write to Toluvani Osibamowo at tosibamowo[email protected]

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