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Pilot Union Chides Southwest Airlines for ‘Egregious’ Scapegoating, Raising Passenger Anxieties

Another turn in an increasingly tense saga.
By Shawn Shinneman |

The president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association jumped into a dispute between the airline and its mechanics on Monday. In a letter, Jon Weaks asserted that Southwest’s handling of the situation constitutes “perhaps the most egregious display by management of trivializing and scapegoating our employees in the history of our company.”

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association is in the middle of a contract dispute with Southwest made uglier by the union’s cries that its members are working under high-pressure conditions they call a “degradation of safety culture.” Southwest has denied those claims, while putting the blame on the union for a growing number of cancelled flights. It declared a state of operational emergency last week.

Weaks says that declaration has raised tensions among passengers. “When the nation saw Southwest blaming an employee group wedded to the safety of our aircraft for our maintenance issues, the questions and concerns intensified,” Weaks wrote.

Southwest cancelled about 440 flights Wednesday amid bad weather. Just yesterday, it cancelled 100. A spokesperson told the Dallas Morning News that about 20 flights are cancelled on a typical day. Weaks:

On Thursday, February 19, Mr. Van de Ven, Chief Operating Officer (COO), sent a company-wide update on our out-of-service aircraft. In it, he stated, “On February 12, just days after our last negotiation session with AMFA, we experienced an unprecedented number of out-of-service aircraft in four specific maintenance locations.” By doing so, he was not subtle in his implication that the number of aircraft out of service was directly correlated with negotiations, and thus, AMFA was hurting our Company over negotiations. Our COO completed throwing our mechanics under the bus with, “Unfortunately, AMFA has a history of work disruptions, and Southwest has two pending lawsuits against the union,” while citing no evidence of a “work disruption” other than the number of aircraft out of service. As the saying goes, correlation is not causation.

In response, Southwest emailed a statement it sent to the mechanics union late last week:

Our investigation has revealed that the surge in out-of-service aircraft appears to be the product of an unlawful job action by a small subset of identified AMFA-represented Mechanics. To the extent AMFA believes this dramatic and statistically implausible spike in UAD is attributable to something other than concerted activity—despite the fact that the Company’s maintenance program and procedures have not changed—we’ve asked for information and supporting data so that we can work with AMFA to constructively remedy this situation.

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