Saturday, December 17, 2016

Mechanics union files federal lawsuit over Southwest Airlines' 'take it or leave it' negotiating tactics

Southwest Airlines’ mechanics union filed a lawsuit against the Dallas-based carrier on Friday accusing the company of negotiating in bad faith and undermining the bargaining process by communicating directly with union members in violation of federal law.

The lawsuit, filed by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association in the U.S. District Court of Arizona, is the latest escalation in an increasingly contentious contract negotiation between Southwest and the union that has stretched over four years.

AMFA alleges that Southwest’s actions violate the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline-union contract negotiations, and asked the court to require Southwest to stop communicating directly with union members through emails, in-person meetings and other forms of media.

In a statement Friday night, Southwest said the union's claims are "without merit."

"Our highest priority is and will always be the safety of our employees and our customers, and we value the contributions of our hardworking mechanics in achieving that objective," Southwest said. "We would like to reward the efforts of our mechanics and look forward to returning to the negotiating table in 2017 to engage in productive discussions."

Southwest and the mechanics have been negotiating for a new contract since 2012. But the two sides have made seemingly little progress at a time when both the pilots and flight attendants unions recently reached new deals after their own multi-year negotiations that led to pay raises without any major concessions.

The negotiations are apparently stalled over several issues, most notably Southwest’s efforts to increase its flexibility when outsourcing maintenance to third-party contractors, including in foreign countries.

The union has framed Southwest’s requests as concessionary and a threat to its members’ job security. Southwest has argued that changes are necessary as the company continues to grow and increase its presence in international markets.

The union complaints alleged in the lawsuit fall under two general categories. The first is that Southwest failed to negotiate in good faith by abruptly canceling some negotiating sessions, by being unprepared or not bringing the proper staff to others, and by reneging on previously agreed upon terms, according to the union.

The second set of complaints deal with Southwest’s actions over the last six months contacting union members directly instead of dealing with union representatives. The lawsuit cites an Aug. 16 email from Southwest’s Vice President of Labor Relations Mike Ryan allegedly sent to union members that said “absent some change in the attitude of the AMFA bargaining committee, there is no agreement that can be reached.”

The union said these collective actions “undermine the chosen representatives of Southwest mechanics” and the collective bargaining process in an effort to “force AMFA or its members to surrender to [Southwest’s] take-it-or-leave it demands for concessionary contract terms.”

(Conor Shine - The Dallas Morning News)

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