Thursday, December 03, 2020

Southwest Outlines Plans for Potential Furloughs Next Year: Furloughs would be a first for Southwest as airlines continue to grapple with the pandemic

The Wall Street Journal
By Alison Sider
December 3, 2020 3:07 pm ET

Southwest Airlines Company on Thursday told more than 6,800 employees that their jobs are at risk without concessions from labor unions or more federal aid as the coronavirus pandemic continues to decimate demand for air travel.

The temporary layoffs, if the company goes through with them, would be a first for Southwest, which has never furloughed or laid off employees in its 53-year history. The airline had pledged to avoid those measures this year. But in October the company told unions that the company would need them to agree to the equivalent of a 10% pay reduction to offset overstaffing costs. Without that, the company said, job losses in 2021 would be inevitable.

Russell McCrady, Southwest’s vice president of labor relations, said the notices were necessary as negotiations with unions have stalled, but added that the company would be willing to pick talks up again. “Our absolute goal is to preserve every job at Southwest Airlines,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Leaders of unions that represent Southwest’s pilots and flight attendants said they believed the notices were meant to pressure employees. “We see it as a heartless and cutthroat negotiating tactic,” said Jon Weaks, president of the union that represents Southwest’s pilots.

Rival carriers have furloughed tens of thousands of workers as the industry continues to bleed cash and executives believe it will take years for travel demand to return to the same levels as before the pandemic.

Still, airlines have sought to avoid job cuts and several carriers have struck deals with pilots to prevent furloughs, hopes of being able to quickly ramp up without time consuming and costly retraining when demand returns. Southwest has planned an ambitious expansion strategy next year.

The final number of furloughs could end up being smaller than the 6,828 notices Southwest has issued. Some rival carriers sent similar notices, which are required under federal labor rules, to tens of thousands of workers and ended up furloughing smaller numbers of employees.

Southwest’s announcement could ramp up pressure on lawmakers, who have resumed negotiations over another stimulus package that could include more federal aid for airlines. A proposal under discussion would include $17 billion in funds for airlines to cover worker salaries through March. Southwest said in a statement that furloughs could be avoided if Congress enacts “satisfactory” extension of aid.

Airlines employed 29,000 fewer people in mid-October, when restrictions on job cuts that accompanied federal aid were lifted, than they did in mid-September, according to federal data. The industry employs 82,000 fewer people than it did in March, including thousands of early retirements and voluntary departures.

Southwest’s notices of potential furloughs include pilots, flight attendants and ramp workers, among others. The furloughs would go into effect March 15 or April 1, depending on the type of job. The airline had issued similar notices to other employees who could be furloughed beginning in January, including over 400 mechanics.

The airline’s unions have staunchly opposed the company’s cost-cutting proposals so far. Flight attendants and pilots have said the company hasn’t taken into account that their paychecks have already shrunk because there are fewer flights to go around, and have said the company should instead reopen offers for employees to take early retirement or unpaid leaves.

“We feel like it’s been a lot of ultimatums,” Lyn Montgomery, president of the union that represents Southwest’s flight attendants, said of the negotiations. Still, she said the union will continue to meet with the company. “There’s still time,” she said.


  1. “We see it as a heartless and cutthroat negotiating tactic,” said Jon Weaks, president of the union that represents Southwest’s pilots. REALLY?? Can someone explain how anyone could believe such a statement? Doesn't the union know what's been going on the last nine months? How can you expect the company to continue paying all employees as if it was business as usual? Absent congressional action it's either furloughs/pay reductions or bankruptcy.

    1. Unions never learn until they kill their golden goose. Specifically airline unions. The UAW has more power because the vast majority of American people have to own a vehicle to survive. And auto manufacturers know that so they are prone to bend more. If an airline dies or gets bought out, another will take its place that has a stronger stance against unions to push back. Delta is perhaps the best example of having the financial stones to push back against pilot and flight attendant unions (because their pay and benefits are already industry leading). We saw this same union thuggery idiocy after 9/11. But unlike 9/11 where airline travel rapidly ramped back up globally, we are not seeing that due to a global pandemic. Mr. Weaks is a thug.

    2. It's a bit like playing poker. If the union agrees right away without a fight, they won't be able to negotiate strong, enforceable snap-back provisions that restore pay when business picks up.

  2. Unions... when are they going to learn. Ruin another industry. Come in foreign airlines.

    The flying product is not good. SWA and Delta offer the best product buts it’s still not that good. Covid has forced biz and leisure to finds news ways and we have, which means we need less of that so-so product.

    For years the traveling public was abused. Now we are saying no thanks.

    Sorry did this to yourself.

  3. Want to know another beauty of the airline pilot union? If you come from another airline that was bought out or went bankrupt you do not get any seniority based on your experience and hours. Say you flew for 15 years and had 12,000 hours (8K of which were captain) at a now defunct airline and are flying the same aircraft as a new hire. Do you know what you get? Even if you are hired as a captain you are the first to get furloughed because you haven't been with the airline long enough to move up the ladder. So yes, you as a 15K hour captain can get cut before a 2 year first officer with 1,500 hours. Nowhere else in any free market job does that ever happen. In the normal business world, you are valued based on your experience and difficulty of replacement, not how long you've been with the organization (no matter your rank). There are a whole hell of a lot more starving 1,500 hour first officer ranked pilots to choose from to hire than 15,000+ hour captains. Unions were once needed to offset greedy mean companies who abused employees and treated them as expendable assets.. safety and all. But that was 100+ years ago before OSHA and labor laws were passed. Unions need to go the way of the horse drawn carriage of the same era.


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