Southwest Airlines management has asked the Transport Workers Union for concessions, and the union has told management to pound sand.
Airline labor relations are getting complicated
Airline labor relations are about as complicated as they’ve ever been. On the one hand, there’s some sense of “we’re all in this together,” because the current situation is truly unprecedented. We’ve seen seen airline management and unions lobbying for the same aid as part of the CARES Act.
While airlines have received CARES Act funding, arguably this only complicates employee relations for now:
- Airlines aren’t allowed to lay off or involuntarily furlough any employees through September 30
- Airlines can freely try to negotiate with employees, either to get concessions, or to offer voluntary furloughs
- However, the simple reality is that demand won’t fully recover by September 30, and at that point we’re likely either going to have to hope for more government aid, or we should expect mass layoffs in the industry (as United Airlines has already confirmed)
- I would be shocked if this situation doesn’t permanently alter employee relations at some airlines, including Delta, where I imagine we may eventually see more work groups unionized
Southwest Airlines asked the TWU for concessions
In light of the current situation, Southwest Airlines has asked the Transport Workers Union (TWU) for concessions. This group represents many of Southwest Airlines’ ground based employees, including those working on the ramp and operations.
Well, suffice to say that this request was shot down, in no uncertain terms. In an open letter response to Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, union leadership flatly denies the request:
- “TWU has no interest in regressing from our current negotiated contracts; we have no interest in concessions”
- The union is, however, open to discussing voluntary early out, paid leave, and other non-concessionary options
- The union says that the money the airline has been given through the CARES Act should give them “time to rethink [their] ill-advised proffer of contract concessions”
- The union thinks Southwest is the best positioned and most financially viable airline in the United States, so it’s “totally unwarranted” to ask for concessions
Here’s the full letter:
I’ve been informed that last week Southwest requested that the Transport Workers Union (TWU) represented Locals, 550, 555, 556 and 557 open and/or negotiate concessions into our members’ contracts. While we certainly understand that Southwest management wants to explore how the company moves forward, the TWU has no interest in regressing from our current negotiated contracts. We have no interest in concessions. We have fought for years to improve our members’ livelihoods and we will robustly continue to do so.
If the company is interested in discussing a seniority based voluntary early out, a paid leave program, or other non concessionary options, which present our members with voluntary opportunities – we are certainly willing to listen. We believe the long term savings from these types of voluntary actions can easily exceed the cost savings you recently proposed. Furthermore, the grant money Southwest Airlines is receiving from the CARES Act now provides you with the necessary time to rethink your ill-advised proffer of contract concessions. On balance, we believe Southwest Airlines is the best positioned and most financially viable airline in the United States and to make a concessionary demand of the TWU is totally unwarranted.
The Transport Workers Union of America, and our Local union leaders at Southwest, stand ready to discuss our proposed non concessionary solutions. Let us know if you want to pursue that conversation.
John Samuelsen & Mike Mayes
They’re not wrong, but…
Increasingly in life I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. There’s no denying that at most airlines there’s a lack of trust and goodwill between management and unions, and I don’t think there’s an easy solution to that.
The union is essentially calling management’s bluff, and I can’t blame them. The reality is that when times are good, employees at most airlines don’t see much of the upside, and when times are bad, they’re often disproportionately the ones suffering.
The person behind this letter is John Samuelsen, who is the same guy who was behind the rough battle between American Airlines mechanics and the company.
He’s the guy who threatened “the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement ever saw,” and also said that if they get to a point where there’s self help, they’re going to be looking at “absolutely vicious strike action to the likes of which you’ve never seen, not organized by airline people, but organized by a guy that came out of the New York City subway system.”
As much as I might not have loved the way he expressed himself, the reality is that American’s mechanics probably got one of the luckiest and most well timed contracts in history. They got almost everything they wanted, and managed to finalize the contract just shortly before this pandemic destroyed the airline industry.
Southwest Airlines asked the TWU for concessions, and they got a pretty clear “no.” The development of labor relations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be interesting to watch.
Through September 30 the unions have all the control, since airlines can’t involuntarily furlough employees or cut pay rates. However, come October 1, all bets are off…