No Love: Southwest Airlines Refuses To Stop Fighting Its Expert Mechanics In Court Even After Contract
Earlier this year in March 2019, Southwest Airlines and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), the union representing Southwest’s mechanics, came to a deal on a contract which was overwhelmingly approved by AMFA’s members a couple months later. This was the culmination of nearly seven years of negotiations, which sometimes got quite contentious. Or at least it was supposed to be the culmination.
With contract negotiations behind us, we at AMFA were proud to have a deal for our expert Aircraft Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) at Southwest Airlines, and are ready to start working together with the company on the many mutual challenges to the airline we love — the FAA safety concerns that have been brought by the 21 individual whistleblowers cases, DOT-OIG safety audit, the re-integration and relaunch of the 737 MAX into our fleet (as the Largest 737 MAX operator), new MAX training for our AMTs, and others.
However, what has not been widely reported is the contract didn’t bring peace between our union and the company. Far from it. There were three lawsuits still pending that needed to be resolved. During bargaining both sides expressed to each other and the courts their expectation that resolution of collective bargaining would resolve this litigation. Yet when the company agreed on a new contract, the members ratified it, and the company signed the contract, it backtracked and refused to end the litigation.
This was despite AMFA’s declared willingness to drop all claims or counterclaims letting each side pay for their costs, with no money changing hands. In fact, this month we moved to drop our bad faith bargaining lawsuit against Southwest, with prejudice, and this week, the judge granted that. Now the company wants to use the courts to permanently enjoin AMFA and saddle its employees with a crippling $20 million dollar loss.
This tactic not only has a chilling effect aimed at AMFA, but at all unions under the Southwest umbrella. Southwest’s ill-fated attempt to deunionize its workforce has begun.
Attorneys for AMFA have taken the position that under the U.S. Constitution, the courts no longer have any jurisdiction over any of this litigation because contract bargaining ended in a new contract. But AMFA is prepared for a long, costly fight in court, if Southwest insists on such a misguided path. To defend this ill-conceived attempt by Southwest to cancel the last contract or litigate the union off the property, AMFA will go to the highest level of appeal, if necessary.
Why is Southwest resorting to these corporate bullying tactics, to use the court system to fight its own employees, even after there is labor peace thanks to a mutually-agreed upon new contract? We believe the company is driven by these unscrupulous objectives:
1. Recouping money
We are proud the Southwest Airlines AMTs once again are the highest paid mechanics in the industry. Shortly after our contract ratification, Bloomberg Law wrote the contract “ is single-handedly responsible for a boost in union-negotiated wages” nationwide. It was the contract our expert AMTs deserved after nearly seven years of working with no pay increases.
Southwest concluded negotiations as media coverage of the airline and its contentious behavior was a focus. Did the scrutiny of the airline’s treatment of its employees affect its brand and bring unwanted incremental regulatory oversight, thus leading to an eagerness to agree to a deal they now regret? Are they now using the court system to compensate them for a lawfully negotiated agreement they feel now was too generous?
Southwest is abusing the federal courts to reopen our contract, or cripple the next round of bargaining,
2. Setting an example
Our brothers and sisters in the other workgroups are either in negotiations with Southwest Airlines now, like TWU 556 and the Flight Attendants, or will be soon, like SWAPA and the Pilots. While harmony between Southwest and its own expert mechanics seemed around the corner after the new contract, the company chose to continue the discord, demanding $20 million from AMFA, a permanent injunction aimed at future bargaining only, and other efforts aimed at crippling our union by tying our hands of not servicing AMFA members. This tactic not only has a chilling effect aimed at AMFA, but at all unions under the Southwest umbrella. Southwest’s ill-fated attempt to deunionize its workforce has begun.
3. Corporate bullying
The pursuit of these contract-related lawsuits long after the resolution of the bargaining is corporate bullying, plain and simple. And it’s indicative of the kind of corporate bullying pervasive across the airline industry, as further evidenced with American Airlines’ current lawsuit against its AMTs. If we don’t take a stand, this will continue — we have no choice but to fight for the proud unions of America so this doesn’t keep happening to them. It is a pervasive issue in our country — executives are seeing unprecedented increases in their income while workers are struggling to see any meaningful growth in theirs and struggling to make ends meet. This economic disparity is undermining our companies and our society and the time is ripe for action.
AMFA believes that Southwest has better things to do than wage war against its own employees in court for the next several years. AMFA does not want to be in court. We want to begin the important work of coming together and partnering with Southwest after nearly seven years of bargaining strife. Unfortunately, Southwest Airlines wants to keep fighting.
But this will not deter us from our mission. We will continue the important work of restoring the safety culture at Southwest Airlines. We will continue focusing our energy on providing our expertise to keep all passengers and our Pilots and Fight Attendants safe, every day. We will continue fighting back against the corporate bullying from the supposed-LUV airline, while rising above the fray.
August 2012 — AMFA’s contract with Southwest Airlines became amendable and subject to re-negotiation, and collective bargaining commenced.
December 2016 — After more than four years of negotiation, AMFA filed a lawsuit against Southwest alleging bad faith bargaining, in violation of the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
February 2017 — Southwest filed a lawsuit against AMFA as well as union officers, alleging a collective boycott of voluntary overtime hours, in violation of the RLA.
September 2018 — After presenting a TA, AMFA members overwhelmingly rejected the proposed contract.
February 2019 — Southwest files a second federal lawsuit against AMFA and individual union officers over a supposed “Operational Emergency,” alleging a collective slowdown.
March 2019 — A new agreement in principle is reached.
May 2019 — AMFA members overwhelming vote in favor of the new contract.
August 2019 — During a stay or freeze of all litigation, the parties conducted mediation to settle all lawsuits ends but with no resolution, due to Southwest’s unreasonable demands.
September 2019 — The stay ends. AMFA moves to dismiss all claims over which the courts no longer have jurisdiction. Southwest seeks acceleration of its claims for $20 million and a permanent injunction over “future” bargaining.