Southwest Airlines notified AMFA of its intent to execute a mass furlough of 403 Aircraft Maintenance Technicians, Facilities Maintenance Technicians, and Aircraft Appearance Technicians, scheduled to take place on January 25, 2021. This action is being taken in retaliation for Southwest’s perceived lack of progress in cost savings discussions with the union. To make this threat more explicit, Southwest suggested the furloughs could be avoided if we agree to cost savings measures (voluntary wage concessions), if additional government aid is extended to the airline or if there is an unforeseen revenue increase.
“This threatened furlough, if executed, is in violation of the AMFA labor contract and it is our intent to exhaust all legal means available to prevent Southwest from taking this action. This attempt to pressure our members into accepting unfair wage decreases, while management turns down government loans because they refused to suspend shareholder dividends and stock repurchases — loans that all the other leading airlines accepted — makes this action unconscionable as well as illegal,” according to Bret Oestreich, AMFA National Director.
Southwest has taken this abrupt action despite there being constructive dialogue between the two organizations as late as Monday of this week. During that meeting, the company gave no indication whatsoever that WARN letters would be sent to Members two days later. AMFA proposals to save money from greater insourcing of work and voluntary employee measures seemed to be well received, and the airline committed to analyzing the proposals and initiated discussions around possible agreement frameworks. AMFA was able to take the discussions this far even while the airline refused to give us credit for several money-saving initiatives we undertook previously this year that resulted in as much as $35 million in savings, if not more.
Insourcing more of the work seems to be a particularly ripe area for savings. Historically, a minimum of 64% of maintenance dollars are outsourced, as are large percentages of Appearance Technician and Facilities Maintenance work. The maintenance outsourcing includes four lines of heavy aircraft maintenance in El Salvador, which is subject to less government oversight and fewer licensed mechanics versus Southwest’s own facilities. Returning that work to Southwest’s in-house operation would create greater efficiency and the opportunity for more collaborative cost cutting solutions than demands for fixed percentage reductions in payroll. It would also have a positive effect on flight safety.
These disruptive threats are being made even though the U.S. government expects widespread distribution of highly effective vaccines, and the beginning of a return to normalcy, in the first few months of 2021.
Winston Churchill once famously said “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Given the circumstances of this threatening action by Southwest, we can only assume their motivation is to reduce their cost basis, reinforce their leadership position, and enrich their investors and executives on the backs of the workers who made this airline great. This clearly is not an issue of survival as Southwest is the strongest airline in the industry right now. It is unfortunate that management has decided to look to Winston Churchill for inspiration when the man who built the airline by always putting people first is why they are in the enviable position they are in today.