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Southwest pilots’ union calls vote to authorize potential strike

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A Southwest Airlines passenger jet lands at Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on December 28, 2022.

Kamil Krzaczynski | AFP | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines pilots’ union plans to carry a vote that would give it the ability to call a possible strike, a move that comes weeks after the carrier’s holiday meltdown further strained ties with its employees’ unions.

Even when Southwest’s pilots vote in favor of giving the union authority to call a strike, it would not be immediate and it might require clearance from the federal National Mediation Board.

Southwest and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association have been in negotiations for a latest contract for years.

Union leaders have focused on higher work rules and scheduling for Southwest employees. Through the travel chaos last month, many pilots and flight attendants were stranded and had to attend on hold to succeed in schedulers or hotel services.

The union’s president, Casey Murray, said it was the primary time it has held a strike authorization vote.

“This decision just isn’t one based on emotion, but I could be lying if I said that I wasn’t offended,” Murray wrote Wednesday to pilots. He said the union can be negotiating “gratitude pay to compensate our Pilots who suffered through the meltdown.”

The strike vote will begin May 1, Murray said. Scheduling it for then means “we will best prepare for and provides our customers time to book elsewhere in order that they could believe of their summer vacations, honeymoons, and family outings,” he wrote to members.

“The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association’s call for an authorization vote doesn’t affect Southwest’s operation or our ability to deal with our Customers,” Adam Carlisle, vice chairman of labor relations at Southwest, said in a press release. “We are going to proceed to follow the method outlined within the Railway Labor Act and work under the help of the National Mediation Board toward reaching an agreement that rewards our Pilots and places them competitively within the industry.”

Southwest pilots’ union last 12 months sought federal mediation of their labor talks. Carlisle said mediation was scheduled to resume Jan. 24.

Delta Air Lines pilots voted in October in favor of allowing the union to authorize a strike, though the union and company a couple of month later reached a preliminary deal for a latest contract.

Labor negotiations are underway across the U.S. airline industry, with unions in search of higher pay and higher working conditions after carriers’ try to quickly ramp up flying capability because the Covid crisis eased strained staff and crews.

Southwest is scheduled to report quarterly results on Jan. 26, and executives are more likely to face questions from analysts about potential labor deals and the impact of the 1000’s of holiday cancellations. The carrier has said the incident could have cost it greater than $800 million.

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