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Southwest Airlines Secures its Mechanics—at a Steep Price

A new contract between Southwest and its mechanics union grants 20 percent raises and $160 million in bonuses.

It took six years, but the mechanics union serving Southwest Airlines has agreed to terms on a new labor contract. Over the weekend, the two sides said they’ve reached a deal that will boost salaries by an immediate 20 percent, with 3 percent raises each year. The deal goes five years. There’s also a $160 million ratification bonus tucked in.

The agreement in principle will soon be fleshed out and put to a union vote. Assuming it’s ratified, it’ll end six years of negotiations that have ratcheted up in recent months.

Things had been particularly heated since early February, when CBS News ran a lengthy feature digging into the safety culture at Dallas-based Southwest. Members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association factored prominently, saying they’ve been repeatedly pressured to look away from possible safety issues and keep planes in the air.

And then came news that Southwest was having to cancel more and more flights due to mechanical issues, a development that airline put squarely on the shoulders of the union, insinuating members were skipping work to gain leverage. Southwest declared an operational emergency and filed a lawsuit saying union members were pointing out maintenance issues that weren’t actual problems, as a strategy. Neither the mechanics union nor the pilots union, which jumped into the fray, cared for these claims. The mechanics union said Southwest had no proof. There was some more back and forth.

With an already depleted fleet, it’s easy to see how last week’s Federal Aviation Administration decision to ground all Boeing 737 Max aircrafts—about 160 of Southwest’s 4,000 flights a day, more than any other airline—could’ve poked its head into these labor talks, as well. I’ve reached out to both sides and will update if I hear back. (Update: Southwest said in an email Monday that there is no link to the FAA decision, and that the airline saw a decrease in reported maintenance issues last week.)

For now, Southwest is probably ready to put this episode behind them—even at the costly price of 20 percent.

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