Southwest Airlines has officially declared an operational emergency as of February 15. Since last Friday, The airline has experienced significant delays and flight cancellations due to a lack of operational aircrafts. There is widespread speculation that the operational issues can be tied to a bigger issue of contract negotiations for the airline’s mechanics.
Operational Emergency Declared
Southwest Airlines’ operational emergency mainly involves the maintenance centers in Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Orlando. The region holds its major hubs, causing significant issues within the company and ultimately to its customers. More than 40 aircrafts have been listed as having maintenance problems. The total rises over double the average daily amount of just 20. The figures have raised eyebrows for Southwest Airlines.
Mike Van de Ven, Chief Operating Officer of Southwest Airlines, states, “We are assigning as much scheduled maintenance program work to these providers as possible, which allows our Southwest mechanics to work the increased workload of maintenance tasks they have identified.”
Throughout the emergency, Southwest Airlines has had to cancel more than 500 flights (this number includes weather delays). On Tuesday alone, 181 flights were canceled. Southwest Airlines is expecting an “all hands on deck” approach to resolving the issue but has recently made claims that the maintenance issues could be traced back to the actual mechanics disrupting their service.
Southwest Airlines vs. Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association
As many as 2,700 of Southwest’s mechanics are members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), a labor union. Since 2012, Southwest has been in contract negations with the organization over its workers but has failed to reach an agreement year after year. The most recent proposal by Southwest was to increase annual pay and include bonuses, which was rejected by the union workers.
The two parties met in early February to begin talks of a new solution. The meeting is rumored to have triggered the recent operational issues with Southwest Airlines.
According to Bret Oestrich, the National Director for AMFA, Southwest is merely using the employees as a “scapegoat” to avoid having to talk about the actual safety issues of their aircrafts. He states, “For Southwest’s leadership to connect the airline’s self-declared ‘operational emergency’ to collective bargaining negotiations is simply an attempt to divert attention away from the airline’s safety issues.”
While the exact details of the meeting have yet to be disclosed, the correlation between mechanics and an unprecedented amount of mechanical issues with the aircrafts seems too closely related. Southwest has claimed in the past that mechanics are purposefully causing issues as a way to force the company into negotiations.
What Does This Mean For Southwest?
Southwest has filed two lawsuits against the AMFA over the past six years of negotiations based on the performance of the mechanics, or lack thereof, because of contract issues. Southwest has stated to its employees that because of the operational emergency, all workers are required to report to work. Employees can be fired for missing work or consistently declining overtime without presenting a proper doctor’s note.
Southwest has issued statements of apologies to their customers for the significant disruptions in their service. It’s unknown how long the operational emergency will be in effect, but if it does have anything to do with the union workers, it’s a sure way to speed up the process of reaching contract agreements between Southwest and the AMFA.