Southwest Plans First Ever Involuntary Furloughs After Labor Talks Stall

Dec. 10, 2020
Workers affected by the filings include pilots, flight attendants, ground service and support workers, and flight instructors.

Dec. 10—COLONIE — Southwest Airlines, in a filing posted Monday by the state Labor Department, warned 269 employees statewide that they would be involuntarily furloughed beginning in mid-March after talks with their unions on temporary cost reductions failed to make "meaningful progress," according to the airline. In all, 6,828 employees, or about 12 percent of Southwest's workforce, have received involuntary furlough notices companywide.

Southwest was seeking the reduce what it says is $1 billion in excess staffing costs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic's impact on air travel. In Albany, 43 unionized workers face furlough.

Southwest said the furloughs were intended to match staffing with the already reduced service levels at Albany and other airports that Southwest instituted as passenger boardings fell by 70% or more.

The airline said it had committed to no involuntary layoffs during all of 2021 if unions agreed to cost reductions. Those cost reductions would have been temporary, Southwest said.

Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, called the WARN filings "a vindictive act of playing with employee's emotions right around the holidays," according to CNBC.

Workers affected by the filings include pilots, flight attendants, ground service and support workers, and flight instructors. They are represented by a number of unions, including the International Association of Machinists, the Transport Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The involuntary layoffs reportedly would be the first in Southwest's 53-year history.

Southwest's decision last spring not to accept federal stimulus funds under the CARES Act drew criticism from the International Association of Machinists.

"(T)he LUV is gone at Southwest Airlines," District Lodge 142 of the IAM wrote on its website, citing Southwest's ticker symbol. "The only concern this company has is for the dollar and for their shareholders. Why else would they refuse the government money and decide to furlough their own employees?"

"Our absolute goal is to preserve every job at Southwest Airlines; however, due to a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations, we had to proceed with issuing notifications to additional Employees who are valued members of the Southwest Family," said Russell McCrady, vice president labor relations, with Southwest.

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