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Southwest Airlines pilots suit says carrier broke labor law, union contract

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Southwest Airlines pilots suit says carrier broke labor law, union contract
The pilots say in their complaint, filed in federal court in Dallas, that Southwest changed working rules and pay rates without negotiating with the union. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Pilots for Southwest Airlines are suing the carrier over working conditions that they say changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, violated their labor agreement and were implemented without their approval.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association filed the lawsuit against the airline earlier this week.

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The pilots say in their complaint, filed in federal court in Dallas, that Southwest changed working rules and pay rates without negotiating with the union.

They specifically cited changes to an "emergency extended time off" policy that gave pilots the option to take leave without pay. The union said the airline didn't have the authority to withhold pay without negotiations.

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The union also said Southwest began mandatory coronavirus quarantines for some pilots, without pay, from December to June under an Infectious Disease Control Policy.

The suit is seeking an injunction against the changes and a return to compliance with the union's collective bargaining agreement.

Southwest has denied the accusation that it violated federal labor laws and says the changes it made required no union involvement.

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"Southwest Airlines, like the rest of the industry, has been forced to respond to the unpredictable challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic," Russell McCrady, Southwest vice president of labor relations, said, according to CNBC.

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"The airline disagrees with SWAPA's claims that any COVID-related changes over the past few months required negotiation."

The lawsuit details the risk of exposure to COVID-19 pilots take while on the job, and that the airline wasn't receptive to solutions pilots proposed to save the company money.

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In December, Southwest gave a furlough warning to almost 7,000 workers, including 1,200 pilots after a deal to cut wages by 10% stalled.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly subsequently announced that there would be no furloughs or pay cuts with the extension of the federal Payroll Support Program. It would have been the first time in Southwest's 50-year history that the airline had ever issued involuntary dismissals or cut salaries.

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