Southwest Airlines filed a lawsuit against its mechanics union Thursday, saying union leaders promoted an “illegal job action” that caused Southwest to declare an operational emergency this month.
Southwest says the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) started a nationwide campaign among its members to take aircraft out of service for mundane issues that do not have an effect on safety, according to the suit, which was filed in the Northern District of Texas in Dallas.
The campaign was “for the sole purpose of improving AMFA’s position in ongoing labor negotiations,” Southwest says in the suit.
“Today’s action does not alter our goal of reaching an agreement that benefits our hardworking Maintenance Employees nor does it change the Company’s unwavering commitment to Safety,” said Vice President Labor Relations Russell McCrady. “Southwest is--hands down--one of the best companies in the world to work for and we will not stray from our focus on rewarding our mechanics, while we work to shield our Employees and Customers from unnecessary disruptions within the operation.”
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The airline and AMFA have been meeting and negotiating for more than six years to try and reach a mutually agreeable contract. On Feb. 11, a meeting ended in AMFA committee member Lucas Middlebrook and other AMFA members storming out, according to the suit.
On Feb. 12, Southwest started to experience “an unprecedented number of aircraft out of service.” AMFA, Southwest says, was telling members to unnecessarily write up maintenance issues in order to remove those aircraft from service.
In the days after the meeting, Southwest saw a 500 percent increase in writeups for minor interior problems, such as a missing row number on an airline, according to the suit.
On average, Southwest has about 14 aircraft out of service. On Feb. 12, 35 aircraft were taken off service. On Feb. 13, that number rose to 47, the airline says in the suit.
On Feb. 15, Southwest declared an operational emergency for Phoenix, Las Vegas, Houston and Orlando. The emergency called for “all hands on deck” to address the increased workload.
Four days later, the operational emergency spread to Dallas and Los Angeles.
Southwest says key phrases used by AMFA members were code for the encouragement of the “illegal activity,” which was meant to pressure Southwest in its negotiations with AMFA.
In an AMFA Facebook post about contract negotiations, someone wrote, ““[S]o start kicking back. Follow the rules that they have laid down. You can find all the rules in the MPM [Maintenance Procedural Manual] and MM [Maintenance Manual],” according to the lawsuit.
Another social media post included in the lawsuit said, “Compliance. We LUV this Airline and want our aircraft to be completely safe. Safety in the air begins with 100% compliance on the ground.”
Southwest’s operational emergency has continued this week with a high of 51 aircraft being called out of service on Wednesday.
Southwest says in the suit AMFA’s alleged actions will “cause irreparable injury to Southwest and to the public if they are not enjoined.”
In a statement on Feb. 20, the union said Southwest Airlines’ scapegoating of its expert aircraft maintenance technicians does not bode well for safe operations.
“Safety is, and always will be, our number one priority,” the statement from the union said. “For Southwest’s leadership to connect the airline’s self-declared ‘operational emergency’ to collective bargaining negotiations is simply an attempt to divert attention away from the airline’s safety issues.“
On Feb. 21, Bret Oestreich, AMFA national director, told the Star-Telegram that Southwest’s safety problems are the airline’s fault.
“We get the blame for one bad decision after another,” Oestreich said. “Southwest has the lowest mechanic-to-aircraft ratio in the industry and Southwest has reduced the turnaround times between flights.”