Sky Talk

Southwest pilots contract includes pay raises totaling 17.6 percent

A Southwest Airlines jet approaches a Love Field gate in Dallas, TX. (Star-Telegram/Ron T. Ennis)
A Southwest Airlines jet approaches a Love Field gate in Dallas, TX. (Star-Telegram/Ron T. Ennis) Star-Telegram

Southwest Airlines pilots are currently weighing a contract offer from the company that includes 17.6 percent in pay raises over the four-year term of the contract.

Last week, I spoke with the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Capt. Paul Jackson about the contract offer and why the union board did not endorse or reject the tentative agreement. The 8,000 pilots have until November 4 to cast their votes on the deal.

On why the board remained neutral on the contract

The level of trust between the pilot group and senior management has been stressed by three long years of negotiations and when you get done with a negotiation the challenge is did you get enough. That’s what the negotiators ask and what the governance asks and also what the membership asks. What our board felt like was this is a deal that has value. This is a deal that has some givebacks and some relaxations of some things that we hold important like our scope and our codeshare protections. It’s a billion dollar contract total value and this is a decision for the 8,000 pilots and their families to make and not 20 guys in the room.

On Southwest’s request to expand codeshare partnerships

The pilots are going to have to consider this. The company came to us and said the last time we negotiated the airline industry has changed markedly and airline partnerships are a much more important component for every single airline out there. With their international expansion, they feel that they need to have partners to make routes viable that aren’t viable and that’s speaking for them. What we have to weigh is, is our flying protected. When Southwest Airlines is out there and in their business practices, are they using Southwest first and foremost? Are they trying to leverage their brand and become a ticket seller rather than an airline in some cases? And Southwest has said they’re not, so we have to accept their program that does protect the pilots interests. It does have layers of protection, layers of things to try to verify that but again it requires a level of trust and a level of action from the company and those will all have to be measured by our pilots whether they are comfortable with that.

On pay raises

It’s 17.6 percent compounded over 4 years into 2019 which are significant raises. They are meaningful raises. There are several [on the board] that felt our snap up, which is a look back while we’re in negotiations, how much of a snap up do we get, many felt that was too low but that is where we ended up in negotiations.

On profit-sharing plans

We have maintained our profit sharing which was not contractual coming in to this contract. We were able to negotiate, to bring the actual profit-sharing into our contract for the first time... It has strong value as we feel there is going to be more and more pressure from shareholders to push out the profit sharing across the industry.

On the pilot vote through November 4

We expect pilots to sit down with their families and their spouses and weigh this deal out and look at the merits of it. If they tell the company, “No, we want more,” we’re prepared as a union to go back in and do what we need to do which is reengage in the negotiations, and if they do accept the deal we are ready to move forward.

This is a new era at Southwest and in our industry. If you take a look at the Delta [pilot] vote and take a look at our flight attendants vote, labor is in an odd position right now especially labor leadership like myself. When is enough enough and those are tough questions and that’s why our board, a lot of people can say we chickened out but enough is enough has to be measured by our pilots and that’s what our board said. How are they going to vote individually? A lot of them were not pleased. But a lot of them realized that it’s a billion dollar contract and it needs to be weighed out and looked at by each pilot.