Southwest Airlines' pilots are suing the airline.
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) filed a complaint against the airline on Monday, August 30th. The union claims that the Dallas-based airline has broken its contract with pilots by abandoning the status quo on pandemic-era procedures it set. This is the latest escalation in the airline's battle with its pilots.
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Southwest's pilots are dissatisfied with the airline's pandemic-related policies. The union claims that the measures had a substantial impact on pilots' working conditions, rules, and pay rates. The action follows a year of contract negotiations between the pilots and the airline. The airline's response to COVID-19 was one of the most vexing issues for the union in the litigation. The airline established an Infectious Disease Control Policy, according to the union, that unilaterally changed working conditions for pilots and went against the status quo and good faith bargaining.
SWAPA is seeking an injunction to prevent Southwest Airlines from making COVID-related work environment adjustments on its own. It also wants the court's help in getting Southwest Airlines to agree to a cease-and-desist order and returning to the negotiating table with its pilots. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, the airline had to make significant modifications to its timetables and, in order to stay afloat, requested concessions from various labour unions, including salary cuts, which pilots were not pleased with. One of its efforts was to develop an Emergency Time Off (ETO) and, later, an Emergency Extended Time Off (ExTO) programme, which, according to the union, gave pilots the choice to not fly and not be paid. The union objected to these conditions in March, and the two parties started negotiating again. One of the carrier’s concerns was employees getting sick while at work. At the time, following public health guidelines, Southwest included situations where employees who contract the virus or may have been exposed to an infectious person would need to quarantine and not report to work. However, it reassured pilots it intended to pay them during the quarantine.
Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, allegedly began directing pilots to quarantine by December 2020, according to the union. According to the union, only pilots who had close contact with an infected person were compensated for time off. Southwest allegedly ceased paying pilots who were ordered into mandatory quarantines by June 16th, 2021, according to the pilots. Southwest Airlines amended their Infectious Disease Control Policy on May 11th, prompting this. According to the union's legal petition, this amendment removed guaranteed employee pay protection for COVID-related events and replaced it with a statement that employees "may" be paid at Southwest's discretion. This came after several months of talks pre-pandemic that appeared to end at an impasse.
Southwest's pilots are enraged, and this is the latest in a series of escalations between the airline and its pilots in recent months. Southwest's vaccine obligation for its employees has been a source of contention for the union in recent weeks. Southwest has not yet enacted one, but it has announced several incentives to encourage its employees to get immunised. Needless to say, neither party intended for this conflict to end in a lawsuit. Employee agreements can be tainted by court disputes, but SWAPA appears to believe it has no other options.
This comes after Southwest pilots threatened to picket during the holiday season this winter. It is not the only group of employees at Southwest that are dissatisfied with the company's plan; flight attendants have also stated their dissatisfaction with the company's strategy, but they have received some relief and have not launched a lawsuit. This comes as CEO Gary Kelly prepares to leave the company in less than six months. Robert Jordan, the new CEO, may take over while the company is still dealing with pilot troubles. That might be a new beginning for both the union and the airline, but only time will tell how this partnership develops.
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