For Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, the new year 2016 isn't starting out any better on the labor front than last year ended.
Late Monday the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association (SWAPA) said Captain Jon Weaks had been elected new president of a union that represents more than 8,000 pilots who fly for the low-fare behemoth. The largest number of SWAPA members, approximately 1,100, are domiciled in Chicago, where Southwest also has its largest hub, at Midway Airport.Weaks, who ran unopposed and received 95.7 percent of the vote, replaces Captain Paul Jackson who abruptly resigned his post effective Dec. 31, 2015.
Jackson's decision to step down in the wake of the rejection of a proposed new contract was viewed as a surprising and very unusual move within SWAPA and by members of other Southwest labor groups.
Hours into his new role, Weaks already is talking tough, suggesting he will be no pushover when it comes to bargaining for a new contract to replace the current one ratified in November of 2009.
Noted Weaks: "I am excited to lead this pilot group in 2016, as we face a different Company mentality than we have seen over the years. This upper management approach to labor has left us disillusioned and bewildered. Despite this, I can assure that what we ask of the Company is rational and justified. We want to give them ample opportunity to regain our trust."
Southwest pilots, who wield considerable power within the airline's overall labor structure, are but one of several key labor groups at Southwest who start 2016 with no sign of a labor deal in sight.
Southwest flight attendants overwhelmingly voted down a proposed contract last July, and sources say little or no progress has been made since then at the bargaining table. Southwest ramp agents and maintenance technicians also have been trying for years to get a new contract at Southwest.
Though respectful of his labor groups in his public pronouncements, Kelly no longer appears to be moving quite so quickly to resolve his labor issues after a couple of major and very public setbacks last year.
Weaks is no stranger to heading the powerful Southwest pilots union. He previously was president from 2001 to 2002, and was a domicile representative for Oakland, California, pilots from 1998 to 1999, and for Las Vegas, Nevada, pilots in 2015. Weaks is domiciled in Las Vegas.
The record profits Southwest has racked up in recent years will apparently be a major issue if and when the pilots and Southwest management return to the bargaining table. Added Weaks: "After three long years and record profits, a new contract is long overdue. We want to make flying for Southwest the first choice for every pilot, and we hope the Company does as well."
A SWAPA spokesman said there have been no bargaining sessions since a proposed contract was voted down in early November, and no talks are currently scheduled.
(Lewis Lazare - Chicago Business Journal)