Southwest Airlines Pilots Association calls for strike vote after Christmas travel fiasco

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As Southwest Airlines continues to clean up the mess left behind by its Christmas travel fiasco, the carrier faces a new challenge – a potential pilots’ strike. 

The Southwest Airlines pilots’ union called for a strike vote on Wednesday. 

“This isn’t about pilots as much as it’s about the soul of Southwest Airlines,” said Captain Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA). “It’s about providing what our mandate is, which is safe and reliable transportation, and reliability is not there today, and our customers deserve better. Our employees deserve better.” 

More than 10,000 pilots represented by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association will begin voting on May 1 whether to authorize a strike. 

The union has been in negotiations with the airline for a new contract for more than three years and feels like things have stalled. 

Southwest pilots did picket last summer, calling for better scheduling and tech updates, but this is the first time SWAPA has ever called for strike authorization. 

The historic action comes in the wake of the airlines’ Christmas-week catastrophe. Murray hopes it’s a wake-up call for Southwest Airlines. 

“We work hard, and we want to make these inefficiencies aren’t the norm and they can’t be the norm for the continued survival of Southwest Airlines,” Murray said. 

To prevent another meltdown, the company has budgeted more than a billion dollars to upgrade its outdated computers systems. 

Murray says the airline’s problems go much deeper. 

“How they’re using pilots and flight attendants,” he said. “How they’re connecting pilots to airplanes. That’s where they’re failing. You can spend a billion dollars on IT, but if the processes are the same, you’re going to get the same output.” 

The SWAPA pilots’ votes will be counted at the end of May. If they approve the strike, it would still require clearance from federal labor officials, which could take months. 

In the meantime, customers are hopeful the airline can reach an agreement with the pilots’ union instead. 

“We’re loyal, and we’re going to hang in there,” said Casey Graves, a Southwest Airlines passenger. “If things happen, they happen, and we have to make last minute changes – we’ll do that.” 

Adam Carlisle, VP Labor Relations at Southwest Airlines, released this statement on the strike authorization: 

“The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association’s call for an authorization vote does not affect Southwest’s operation or our ability to take care of our Customers. We will continue to follow the process outlined in the Railway Labor Act and work, under the assistance of the National Mediation Board, toward reaching an agreement that rewards our Pilots and places them competitively in the industry. 

“The union’s potential vote does not hinder our ongoing efforts at the negotiating table. We are scheduled to resume mediation on January 24.” 

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