Last updated: 03:50 PM ET, Thu January 28 2016

Southwest Pilots Plan To Protest at Dallas Hub

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | January 28, 2016

Southwest Pilots Plan To Protest at Dallas Hub

Photo courtesy of Southwest

Southwest Airlines has spent the past four years negotiating with its pilots, whose last contract expired in 2012. Though they have continued to fly during this time, the pilots are now growing impatient. After United gave its cockpit employees a generous contract extension, the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association (SWAPA) has let it be known that they are growing tired of the years-long impasse. 

A short press release sent to the media yesterday explained this frustration and announced that pilots would take the unprecedented step of picketing Southwest headquarters at Dallas Love Field:

"Southwest Airlines pilots have been without an acceptable contract since 2012. After nearly four years in negotiations toward a new contract, SWAPA has decided to demonstrate their collective displeasure to management, the flying public, and Southwest shareholders. Four years, particularly during a time of record profits, is far too long for a company known for its “LUV” to not provide a worthy contract offer to its operational front line leaders – the pilots. After numerous sacrifices to help ensure the current financial success, it is time for Southwest Airlines management to finalize a contract with its professional pilots and move forward together toward a prosperous future."

The protest is scheduled for the afternoon of Feb. 3. Pilots will picket at the entrance of the airport and also inside the lobby of Southwest’s headquarters. The release calls this an “informational picket.” It is the first such event at Southwest headquarters, but it is not the first move that SWAPA has ever made. They have been hinting at the possibility of a strike for some time, first announcing a “strike preparedness” plan in May of last year. 

READ MORE: What Are Passengers’ Rights in the Event of an Airline Strike?

It looked like the contract dispute would be ended this past November, but the offer that Southwest presented the pilots was not accepted because of a couple of sticking points. The 17 percent raise offered by the airline was deemed acceptable, however, more than 60 percent of SWAPA’s 8,000-plus members voted against the deal because they thought that the contract gave the airline some loopholes.

The main problem was that Southwest wanted the freedom to engage in code-sharing, which could hypothetically make it possible to cut its own pilot payments by letting other airlines fly certain routes on its behalf. Pilots also wanted retro-pay dating back to 2012. Essentially, this means that they wanted their new 17 percent raise to be applied retroactively to all the time they worked since the last contract expired in 2012. Southwest did not agree to either of these points. Thus the "no" vote. 

READ MORE: Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Union Rejects Contract Offer

The two groups had agreed to meet again in the “Spring of 2016” to give negotiations another try. Apparently, since other airlines, such as United, have now started to give their pilots generous new deals, a sense of impatience has set in in Southwest’s cockpits. 

Southwest is still hoping that negotiations can continue as planned. After the Feb. 3 picketing was announced, the airline told the media that it is “eager to resume negotiations so that we can reward our pilots for their service and professionalism… The company’s negotiators and leadership are focused on resuming negotiations to reach an agreement that meets the collective needs of our people, our company and our common future.” 

It remains to be seen if the picketing inspires Southwest to change the sticking points that led to the failure of the November vote. 

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