| Southwest Airlines pilots blame company for stoking 'unnecessary fear' in flying public|
KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE 2:06 PM ET 2/26/2019
Symbol Last Price Change
|LUV ||54.105 ||+0.145 (+0.27%)|
|AAL ||36.585 ||+0.685 (+1.91%)|
|QUOTES AS OF 02:06:30 PM ET 02/26/2019 |
Feb. 26-- Feb. 26--The union representing Southwest Airlines'(LUV) 10,000 pilots is injecting itself into the escalating war of words between the Dallas-based carrier and its mechanics.
In a strongly worded message, pilots union president Jon Weaks accused Southwest Airlines(LUV) of creating "unnecessary fear and safety concerns in our passengers and the flying public" by declaring an operational emergency. He expressed confidence in mechanics to keep Southwest's(LUV) planes in airworthy condition.
"The last few weeks have highlighted how poorly upper management at Southwest Airlines(LUV) is performing, how it truly views labor, how ineffective its communication and execution of our daily operation are, and how everyone at OUR airline should be concerned," Weaks wrote in his message.
Southwest Airlines (LUV), the nation's largest domestic airline, has canceled hundreds of flights in the last three weeks, stranding or delaying thousands of passengers around the country. Tuesday's cancelations stand at about 60 flights out of 4,000 daily, including twice as many out-of-service planes as the airline's historic daily average, according to the company.
A Southwest(LUV) spokeswoman pointed to the company's previous statements in responding to the pilots' union criticism. The company asserts the maintenance issues appear to be "the product of an unlawful job action by a small subset of identified [union]-represented mechanics."
Weaks' note to pilots, posted Monday night, disputed the company's version of events.
"Let me be clear, our aircraft are safe, and a large part of that is because the men and women of [Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association] continue to do their jobs in the face of increasing pressure, intimidation, and scrutiny from Southwest(LUV) management," wrote Weaks, a Southwest(LUV) pilot since 1990.
Calling pilots "the final line of defense" in getting 120 million passengers a year from Point A to Point B, he ended his message with "A to B safely or not at all."
Weaks' lengthy statement also criticized Southwest(LUV) for not stocking sufficient parts for mechanics to use and for using outside vendors for most of its maintenance work.
AMFA has been "vocal about not having enough parts on hand, and at times had no choice but to legally use or 'rob' parts from other aircraft in order to meet operational demands," Weaks said.
"What should be obvious to upper management is that by failing to stock enough parts, relying on borrowing parts from other aircraft, and banking on just-in-time inventory, the company is in no way helping, but only furthering, delays," he added.
Southwest (LUV) declared an "operational emergency" Feb. 19 after what it describes as an unprecedented number of planes being taken out of service for maintenance issues. It ordered mechanics to show up for work as scheduled or risk being fired.
The company said the higher-than-normal grounding of planes began Feb. 12, only days after the last negotiating session with the mechanics union. Southwest(LUV) and the union have been negotiating for six years without a new contract agreement.
"When the nation saw Southwest(LUV) blaming an employee group wedded to the safety of our aircraft for our maintenance issues, the questions and concerns intensified," Weaks said. "What followed this declaration is perhaps the most egregious display by management of tribalizing and scapegoating our employees in the history of our company."
Weaks said the company has not disputed the validity of safety write-ups taking planes out of service.
"On the one hand, management wants our mechanics to make the right call, but on the other hand, they are upset that our mechanics are trying to do the right thing while under the microscope by the FAA," he said. "The cognitive dissonance is deafening."
Weaks contends Southwest(LUV) wants "carte blanche outsourcing of maintenance to foreign repair stations. ... You can guess what that means for the number of mechanics in a Southwest(LUV) uniform."
"Today, Southwest Airlines(LUV) outsources 80 percent of all aircraft maintenance. You read that correctly -- 80 cents of every dollar we spend on maintaining and repairing our aircraft is outsourced," he told pilots.
That's considerably higher than Southwest's(LUV) competitors, according to Weaks. He said United Airlines outsources 51 percent of aircraft maintenance, Alaska Airlines farms out 49 percent, Delta hires vendors for 43 percent, and American Airlines(AAL) contracts out 33 percent.
"If management is touting outsourcing maintenance as a critical element of future success, they should release data showing the maintenance reliability rates for each vendor compared to the reliability rates of our mechanics," Weaks said. "These reliability rates should include how much work was initially done incorrectly, and how much work had to be redone once the aircraft was put back into service."
The company spokeswoman cited Southwest(LUV) CEO Gary Kelly's email Friday to employees. In it, Kelly noted that mechanics voted down a contract last year that would have made them the highest paid in the commercial airline industry, "with minor work rule changes."
"In our current negotiations, there remain opportunities to improve upon the pay, with no impact to job security, in exchange for more supplier flexibility," Kelly said. "For our mechanics' sake, I would not want these operational issues to delay or obstruct the upcoming March negotiations. What we all should desire with a laser focus is a new contract."