Southwest Airlines’ pilots union filed suit against the Dallas-based carrier on Monday, alleging “unlawful tactics” by the company in its contract talks.
The suit alleges that Southwest has threatened to operate the new Boeing 737-MAX aircraft even if it does not reach a contract with its pilots.
“We believe Southwest Airlines, in planning to fly the MAX without a contract for it, is threatening a breach of status quo under Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act. Pilots cannot be forced into labor without a contract in place,” said Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association president Capt. Jon Weaks.
Southwest is the launch customer of Boeing’s new 737-800 MAX aircraft and deliveries of the plane are scheduled to being early next year. The carrier has a firm order for 200 MAX planes through 2027 with options to purchase an additional 191 during that period.
The carrier said it believes the lawsuit is “unnecessary and premature” since the aircraft will not be operated until 2017.
“Southwest and SWAPA are currently in contract negotiations and any item related to the 737-8 (MAX) could be resolved through that process well before these aircraft enter service,” Southwest said in a statement.
If a new contract is not reached in time, Southwest said it has the right to fly the aircraft under the current contract terms which became amendable in 2012.
The pilots have been in contract talks with Southwest since 2012. Last year, the pilots rejected a proposed four-year contract that included pay raises totaling 17.6 percent and created subsets for international and Boeing 737-MAX flying. The vote was 62 percent against the deal.
The pilots union, along with the flight attendants and mechanics unions, plans to picket Southwest’s annual shareholder meeting which will be held in Chicago on Wednesday.