Last updated: 02:58 PM ET, Sat August 06 2016

Southwest Airlines Board Backs CEO Gary Kelly

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | August 06, 2016

Southwest Airlines Board Backs CEO Gary Kelly

PHOTO: Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. (Photo courtesy of Southwest)

The Southwest Airlines Board of Directors late Friday responded to a resounding “vote of no confidence” in the carrier’s leadership by four of its unions with an emphatic answer of its own: Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly isn’t going anywhere.

In a fascinating public showing of the inner dynamics between labor and management, Southwest’s board slapped down the unions, including the pilots’ union – which had voted 20-0 in a resolution of no confidence on Monday – the maintenance workers’ union and two other labor groups.

“Given the recent 'no confidence' vote by each of you in the Management of Southwest Airlines, we believe it is imperative you understand the unanimous position of the Company’s Board Members,” the Board of Directors wrote. “Let us be clear. It is solely the board’s responsibility to determine who will serve as the Chief Executive Officer of Southwest Airlines. Let us be equally clear we have no intention of removing Gary Kelly or (chief operating officer) Mike Van de Ven from their positions.”

In announcing the 20-0 "no confidence" vote on Monday, pilots’ union president Jon Weaks said the airline's senior executives value "short-term stock performance" over their employees or even customer service. The low-cost carrier earned a record profit of $820 million in the second quarter of 2016.

READ MORE: Southwest Pilots Call For CEO, COO To Be Replaced

Noting that the airline has “never been stronger” in its 45-year existence, the board ticked off a lengthy list of Kelly’s achievements in his 12 years as CEO.

“Taking into account this record of Company accomplishments under Gary’s leadership, your public expression of 'no confidence' is without merit, reckless, and fails to take into consideration its potential consequences,” the board wrote. “For example, if a change in Leadership were to occur, negotiations would likely come to a grinding halt while new Management sought to orient itself. There is no guarantee the terms new Management would seek would be better than the offers you have today. In other words, you ultimately could be in a worse position than you are today.”

So far, the unions have not responded.

The full text of the letter can be found here.

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