A six-year labor contract negotiation between Southwest Airlines and is mechanics union reached a boiling point this month with a series of lawsuits filed from both sides of the table. Late last week, the Dallas-based low cost carrier sued its own mechanics union, suggesting that the group was using work slowdowns and complaints as a tool for creating leverage in the contract negotiations. In response, the AMFA or Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association launched its own counter-suit this past Friday, saying in part:
Today, AMFA has also taken the step of counter-suing Southwest Airlines Co. for its violations, as alleged in the Answer and Counterclaim, of the Railway Labor Act – and it has counter-sued both the Company and its Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven for defamation, as alleged, against AMFA.
Southwest and its labor union have been locked in a protracted contract negotiation for over six years. During that time, mechanics at the airline have been working without a contract.
Until February, the negotiations were still ongoing, but at that point, a higher volume of Southwest aircraft curiously started to get pulled out of service by the mechanics, disrupting mainline operations. On one Sunday alone at the carrier, over 100 flights were canceled because of service disruptions, resulting in a public apology from Mike Van de Ven, COO. In that note, Van de Ven placed the blame squarely on the mechanics union; the AMFA, was quick to fire back in its own statement, saying “”Southwest Airlines scapegoating of its expert aircraft maintenance technicians does not bode well for the airline’s safe operations.”
Mechanics maintain that aircraft have been pulled out of service for legitimate reasons and that no collective action outside of its legal responsibilities is being taken. Southwest, however, sees things differently and filed the lawsuit which triggered the counter-suit this week.
As the spat continues, the Federal Aviation Administration has taken the rare action of stepping in, urging both sides to reach a conclusion in the name of safety. In a letter to both the mechanics union and the air carrier last week, Ali Bahrami, associate administrator for aviation safety said that “The FAA cautions that a breakdown in the relationship between Southwest and AMFA (Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association) raises concern about the ongoing effectiveness of the airline’s safety management system.” That letter was later surfaced by the Wall Street Journal and shared with the public.