Southwest Airlines pilots authorize a strike

Pilots at Southwest Airlines have voted to authorize a strike .
Jordan Vonderhaar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pilots at Southwest Airlines have voted almost unanimously to authorize a strike as contract negotiations with the carrier drag on.

Virtually all (99%) of the 98% of eligible pilots who cast a vote were in favor of the authorization. The vote does not mean a walkout is imminent; Southwest, in a statement, said the result has “no impact on our scheduled operations.”

For the past three years, Southwest and its pilots’ union have been working on a new deal, but have failed to come to terms. The pressure was increased on the airline earlier this year when Delta Air Lines agreed to an industry-changing pilot contract that offers $7 billion in higher pay and benefits.

And as the negotiations have failed to yield an agreement, rhetoric on both sides is starting to ramp up.

“The lack of leadership and the unwillingness to address the failures of our organization have led us to this point,” said Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, in a statement. “Our pilots are tired of apologizing to our passengers on behalf of a company that refuses to place its priorities on its internal and external customers.”

“Our negotiating team continues to bargain in good faith and work toward reaching a new agreement to reward our Pilots,” replied Adam Carlisle, vice president of labor relations at Southwest Airlines, in a statement of his own. “This anticipated authorization vote result does not change our commitment to the negotiation process, and we look forward to continuing discussions with SWAPA at the negotiating table.”

Southwest and its pilots might still be far apart, but in the past few months it has struck collective bargaining agreements with other work groups, including its meteorologists and its customer service employees.

In January, the carrier also offered millions in bonus pay to its employees for holiday disruptions, which left many workers helpless, and stranded passengers. Southwest gave approximately $45 million to its pilots’ union, which works out to about $4,500 per pilot. That’s on top of bonuses that were already given for holidays and flight reassignments.

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