Southwest Finally Reaches Agreement with Mechanics "In Principle"
In a sign that things might just be getting better between Southwest Airlines and its mechanics, and after the airline recently declared an operational emergency in response to a spike in out-of-service aircraft, the two sides released a joint statement Saturday saying they have reached an agreement in principle for a new contract.
"After a week of mediation, including many long nights and early mornings, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) and Southwest Airlines have reached an Agreement in Principle (AIP) on Saturday, March 16, 2019, toward a new collective bargaining agreement. We are very pleased with the efforts of both Teams to find common ground on a new contract that is good for our Aircraft Maintenance Technicians and for Southwest Airlines," the memorandum read.
Under the terms of the new five-year contract, the mechanics would receive $160 million in retroactive pay, an immediate pay increase of 20% that would take effect April 1, and a 3% annual pay increase each August. The mechanics also agreed to changes that would allow the airline to gain efficiencies and help reduce overall costs.
“Our Mechanics certainly deserve a new contract, and we believe this industry-leading Agreement in Principle addresses our Employees’ interests,” said Southwest's Vice President Labor Relations Russell McCrady. “The parties were able to agree to a work rule change that allowed the Company to add compensation to the previous Tentative Agreement. I want to thank both negotiating teams for finding a solution that takes care of our People and protects the long-term success of our Company. I would also like to thank the National Mediation Board (NMB) for their expertise in helping us reach this agreement.”
Even with the latest steps, it will still take some time before the mechanics and the airline can put pen to paper to sign the new contract. AMFA National Director Bret Oestreich told TPG via email that both sides should have a "full tentative agreement this week" once the language of the contract is finalized. Once that happens, ballots will be sent to all AMFA members for their vote. According to the union, it will take about 60 days for the voting process to be completed.
"After more than six years of negotiations, we finally have a deal we can recommend for the best interest of our 2,400 AMFA-SWA AMTs," read a statement from Oestreich. "I commend both sides for their hard work and tireless negotiating this past week to achieve this AIP. We also appreciate the assistance of the National Mediation Board and Mediators in guiding us to this point in the process. The Negotiating Committees are continuing to work together to finalize Tentative Agreement language, which will then be sent to the National Executive Council (NEC) for a final review, and then to the membership for their consideration and ratification vote. Further details regarding the ratification vote will be released when the TA language is completed."
Mechanics at Southwest have been working for the past six years without a new contract in place. And recently, labor issues have become very public. The airline blamed the mechanics for pulling planes out of service for minor, non-flight safety-related issues, going so far as to file a lawsuit against the mechanics union. The mechanics said they felt pressured to keep planes in the air and overlook certain issues to maintain flight schedules.
The very public dispute between management and labor eventually drew the attention of the FAA. In an unusual move, the head safety regulator at the FAA issued a letter to the airline. This comes as Southwest prepares for its much-anticipated launch of flights to Hawaii. When asked if the recent developments had anything to do with the impending launch, both the AMFA and Southwest said no. "The agreement is a result of our ongoing negotiations…it’s not related to the timing of Hawaii," a spokesperson for the airline said in a statement to TPG.
If finalized, the next time the new agreement would be amendable is August 16, 2024.
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