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Southwest Pilots Vote to Authorize a Strike -- WSJ
Dow Jones Newswires May 11, 2023 04:25:00 PM ET
Pilots at Southwest Airlines voted to authorize a potential strike, seeking to ramp up pressure in yearslong contract negotiations with the company.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said it released the results of the referendum early after votes came in more quickly and decisively than it expected, with 98% of pilots participating and 99% voting to authorize a potential strike.
Still, the vote doesn't mean pilots are likely to walk out in the near future, as federal law makes it difficult for airline unions to go on strike.
Southwest said the vote would have no impact on its scheduled operations. The union said Thursday that the results of the vote would empower it to seek to be released from mediated talks in order to strike.
Pilots at three major airlines are in the midst of negotiating new labor deals. Such talks often become heated, but an industrywide shortage of pilots that emerged after carriers encouraged thousands to retire during the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the typical dynamics. Pilots' unions have had more leverage to push for increased pay as well as changes in scheduling practices that they say will improve their quality of life.
Southwest and its pilots have been in negotiations for over three years as the pilots have pushed for a major overhaul of the company's scheduling practices. The union has emerged as one of the airline's sharpest critics in the wake of its operational meltdown at the end of last year, arguing that the disruption is evidence of deeper problems within the company.
"The lack of leadership and the unwillingness to address the failures of our organization have led us to this point," said Capt. Casey Murray, the union's president.
Adam Carlisle, Southwest's vice president of labor relations, said the vote wouldn't change the airline's commitment to the negotiating process. "Our negotiating team continues to bargain in good faith and work toward reaching a new agreement to reward our pilots," he said.
Such votes have been a common tactic in airline negotiations, though actual walk-offs have been rare in the U.S. American Airlines Group pilots also voted overwhelmingly in favor of a similar strike authorization earlier this month, though the airline has said the two sides are making progress toward a deal.
Pilots at Delta Air Lines also voted to authorize a strike last year before eventually reaching a deal that set a new high-water mark for pilot pay and included raises of at least 34% over its four-year term.
The law that governs U.S. airline labor contracts requires that both sides exhaust all efforts to resolve their disputes before workers can strike. The National Mediation Board, which is already overseeing the negotiations between Southwest and its pilots, would have to agree that talks had reached an impasse and offer the sides a chance to arbitrate before releasing them into a 30-day "cooling off" period. The president and Congress could also then intervene.
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