Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly was dealt another blow from within his labor ranks today when Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association (SWAPA) rank and file rejected a tentative contract agreement announced in September.
The Southwest union includes more than 8,000 pilots, with the largest number of them (approximately 1,100) domiciled in Chicago, where Southwest has its largest hub at Midway Airport.
SWAPA said 61.64 percent of the pilots who voted opted to reject the tentative agreement, and 38.36 percent voted in favor of the proposed deal. More than 95.1 percent of all Southwest pilots cast a ballot — a huge turn-out.
Southwest pilots' rejection of their tentative contract comes just over three months after Southwest flight attendants also overwhelmingly rejected a tentative contract that Transport Workers Union Local 556 rank and file said lacked sufficient pay boosts and included longer work hours, among other issues.
Southwest ramp agents have been trying for five years to get a new contract with CEO Kelly and his union bargaining team. Ramp agents have picketed at numerous airports Southwest serves and at the most recent annual meeting to protest the slow progress in getting a new deal.
The slow contract talks with ramp agents also were believed to have been a factor in Southwest's historic meltdown at Midway Airport in early 2014.
Commenting on the pilots' vote results today, SWAPA president Paul Jackson said: "Despite increased compensation and some work rule improvements, there were new company allowances in this agreement that our pilots did not find palatable when compared to the potential gains."
Before the proposed contract was put out for a vote last month, sources also said pilots were irked about Southwest management's efforts earlier this year to do some variation on a code share deal with JetBlue that was believed to be in violation of the pilots' contract with the airline. Southwest denied any such deal was in the offing.
SWAPA's Board of Directors is slated to convene in Dallas next week to decide the next steps in what is expected to be an eventual return to the negotiating table.
The pilots' rejection of their proposed contract comes as Southwest continues to post quarter after quarter of record profits, fueled in part at least by low oil prices.
Southwest pilots last rejected a tentative contract in June of 2009, according to a SWAPA spokesman. Pilots subsequently accepted a new contract in November of 2009 — the same contract that is now in effect and being renegotiated.
(Lewis Lazare - Chicago Business Journal)