Southwest Pilots union calls for votes to approve possible strike as contract talks turn sour

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A Southwest Airlines passenger jet lands at Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on December 28, 2022.

Kamil Krzaczynsky | TBEN | Getty Images

Southwest airlines The pilots’ union plans to hold a vote that could give it the power to call a possible strike, a move that comes weeks after the airline’s collapse and further strains ties with the unions.

Even if Southwest pilots voted to give the union the power to call a strike, it would not be immediate and would require approval from the federal National Mediation Board.

Southwest and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association have been negotiating a new contract for years.

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Union leaders have focused on better work rules and scheduling for workers in the Southwest. During the travel chaos last month, many pilots and flight attendants were stranded and had to wait on hold to reach planners or hotel services.

The union’s president, Casey Murray, said it was the first time a strike vote had been held.

“This decision is not based on emotion, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t angry,” Murray wrote to pilots. He said the union is also negotiating “gratitude pay to compensate our pilots who suffered from the meltdown”.

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The strike vote begins May 1, Murray said. Planning for that time means “we can best prepare and give our clients time to book elsewhere so they can feel confident about their summer vacations, honeymoons and family getaways,” he wrote to members.

Southwest Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Delta Airlines pilots voted in October to allow the union to authorize a strike, though the union and company reached a tentative agreement for a new contract about a month later.

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Labor negotiations are underway across the U.S. airline industry, with unions pushing for higher wages and better working conditions following an effort by airlines to ramp up flight capacity quickly as the Covid crisis eased stressed staff and crew.

Southwest is expected to report quarterly results on Jan. 26, and executives are likely to get questions from analysts about potential employment contracts and the impact of the thousands of holiday cancellations. The carrier has said the incident could have cost it more than $800 million.