Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Southwest Airlines pilots union bashes company’s choice for labor chief

The Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association today reacted to the leadership changes announced by the carrier, praising the naming of Tom Nealon as president, but bashing the promotion of Russell McCrady to the top labor relations post.

“Unfortunately, the promotion of Russell McCrady to Vice President of Labor Relations is a direct attack on labor,” Capt. Jon Weaks, president of the union that represents Southwest’s pilots, said in a statement. “It further demonstrates that Southwest Airlines' upper management is tone deaf and disingenuous in their previously stated goal of trying to begin to regain the trust of the pilots.”

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines on Tuesday announced sweeping changes that included the Nealon and McCrady promotions. The airline on Wednesday released a statement from McCrady, who was lead negotiator for pilot contract negotiations even prior to his recent promotion.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead Labor Relations and look forward to working with Union leaders to enhance the partnerships that have contributed greatly to the success of Southwest Airlines,” McCrady's statement says.

McCrady began his career with Southwest in flight operations and crew scheduling. He joined the airline as a pilot crew scheduler in 1993 and transitioned to labor relations nearly four years ago.

Weaks told me in a recent interview that

severe turbulence between pilots and company management remains, despite the pilots’ vote in November to ratify a new contract.

Reaching agreement on the pilots’ contracts represents progress, but operational problems, severe IT challenges, scheduling snafus, and poor morale continue to be issues, Weaks said at the time.

The new contracts gave pilots an immediate 15 percent pay increase along with full retroactive pay from 2013 through 2016, plus 3 percent annual raises in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, working out to a 29.4 percent pay increase over the life of the contract. The contract also improved pilots’ retirement plans to defined contributions, instead of a match, in the amount of 9.3 percent for 2016, 13.4 percent in 2017, 14.2 percent in 2018 and 15 percent in 2019 and forward.

The contract with the pilots was reached shortly after the retirement of Randy Babbitt, Southwest’s top labor relations executive, with whom the union had a rocky relationship.

Weaks said today that McCrady’s relationship with the union is no better.

“Mr. McCrady holds zero credibility with the pilot group and his promotion is a poorer decision than the hiring of former VP of Labor, Randy Babbitt,” Weaks said. “Mr. McCrady is not trusted by SWAPA and we have absolutely no faith in his ability to do his job. One of Mr. Nealon's first tests will be how he handles this situation.”

The union president praised Nealon’s elevation to president, among other promotions.

“We are excited by and congratulate Mr. Nealon on his promotion to president,” Weaks said. “We will certainly give him the opportunity to regain the trust of our pilots and look forward to a fresh start and open dialogue. His promotion acknowledges Southwest’s information technology problems and further validates our previous vote of no confidence.”

In August, hundreds of Southwest pilots picketed at Love Field, and union leaders passed a vote of no confidence in Southwest CEO Gary Kelly and the airline’s management.

(Bill Hethcock - Dallas Business Journal)

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