Southwest Airlines Warns Mechanics Of 400 Potential Furloughs

Southwest Airlines
Credit: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines warned its mechanics of more than 400 potential furloughs, cautioning that job losses will be unavoidable unless they agree to further cost-cutting measures.

The Dallas-based carrier said it sent out 403 furlough notices to employees in its Mechanics and Related; Appearance and Technician; and Facilities Maintenance Technician workgroups—all of whom are represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).

In addition, the company sent a notice of potential impact to 1,503 employees—also represented by the AMFA—who could be affected should the furloughed workers exercise their seniority to fill other bid positions.

Large U.S. employers are required under federal law to issue furlough warnings, known as WARN letters, to affected staff at least 60 days ahead of a possible mass furlough action. Just because a worker receives a WARN notice does not necessarily mean they will be let go; rather, the goal is simply to alert the maximum number of staff who could potentially be impacted.

Southwest—which has never had furloughs in its 50-year history—has been engaged in negotiations with its labor unions since October toward cost-cutting measures that would avert the need for furloughs. As part of those talks, CEO Gary Kelly has proposed a 10% companywide pay-cut for all frontline staff, although that plan has been met with stiff opposition by labor unions. 

The company said the 403 employees included in the latest round of WARN letters will be furloughed on Jan. 25, 2021, or within 14 days after that date, unless the AMFA agrees to a cost-cutting deal, or the federal government enacts an extension of the CARES Act Payroll Support Program. 

“We have been engaged with our unions since early October seeking pathways to help us reduce our costs, and it is unfortunate that we had to move forward with this outcome, as the affected employees are valued members of the Southwest family,” Southwest VP-labor relations Russell McCrady said. “We are not closing the door to further discussions, but we need agreements to be reached to help us save these employees’ jobs and address the extremely challenging economic conditions we face.” 

In an update to members, AMFA national director Brett Oestrich called the threatened furloughs a violation of the union’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Southwest, adding that AMFA intends to “exhaust all legal means available” to prevent the furloughs. The union has argued that language in its CBA precludes any reduction among its members so long as Southwest continues to outsource large portions of its mechanic roles to foreign countries.

“This attempt to pressure our members into accepting unfair wage decreases, while management turns down government loans because they refused to suspend shareholder dividends and stock repurchases ... makes this action unconscionable as well as illegal,” Oestrich said.

The latest WARN letters come after Southwest previously notified 42 materials specialists, represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, of potential furloughs earlier in November, after talks with that union toward a cost-cutting deal broke down. 

Ben Goldstein

Based in Washington, Ben covers Congress, regulatory agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation and lobby groups.