Southwest Airlines pilots are suing the airline, claiming the company withheld pay in violation of the union contract

·3 min read
Gary Kelly wears a grey suit and purple tie while speaking into a microphone in front of a US flag.
Gary Kelly is the CEO of Southwest Airlines PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
  • Southwest pilots are suing the airline for failing to bargain with the union during the pandemic.

  • The suit claims Southwest put some pilots into mandatory quarantine without pay.

  • Southwest said in a statement to Insider the company disagrees with SWAPA's claims.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Southwest Airlines pilots are suing the company for failing to bargain with the union before making changes to pay and work conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association claims the company violated the union contract by implementing an "emergency extended time off" policy, which gave pilots the option to take time off without pay during the pandemic.

The SWAPA said Southwest did not have the ability to withhold pay without first bargaining with the union.

The union added Southwest began directing some pilots into mandatory quarantine without pay starting December 2020 and continuing into this summer.

On May 11, the suit states Southwest revised its Infectious Disease Control Policy from ensuring pilots "will be paid" for missing work due to COVID-19 events to employees "may" be paid.

"Defendant's illegal tactics are a form of asymmetrical warfare in negotiations," the suit reads. "If unrestrained, Defendant's illegal tactics will cause irreparable harm to SWAPA and the pilots it represents."

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Russell McCrady, Southwest's vice president of labor relations, said in a statement to Insider the company disagrees with SWAPA's claims laid out in the suit.

"Southwest remains committed to Pilots' health and welfare and to working with SWAPA, and our other union partners, as we continue navigating the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic," McCrady said. "The Safety of our Employees and Customers remains paramount at all times, and Southwest has a demonstrated legacy of putting Employees first in our decisions - including maintaining our 50-year history of no Employee furloughs or layoffs throughout the pandemic."

Pilots said they put themselves at risk of exposure by nature of their job: They are confined to small cockpits for hours during a flight and walk through crowded airport terminals and hotels.

Southwest pilots added that though corporate-level employees could work from home, pilots put their children at risk of exposure every time they came back from a flight.

"While management employees protected themselves by closing down headquarter offices to work from home and meeting virtually, pilots, along with other front-line workers, did not have that option," the lawsuit states.

The pilots' union claims in the suit Southwest rejected "concrete solutions" pilots proposed to save money during the COVID-19 pandemic. The suit states Southwest was "not receptive" to the solutions, and later told 1,221 pilots they will be furloughed.

"As hundreds of flights were being (and continued to be) canceled and Pilots are being overworked on the line and stranded overnight, all the while still at risk of COVID, and ever more with the Delta and Lambda strains, SWAPA has been vocal in demanding action by management," the suit reads.

Southwest Airlines was not immediately available for comment.

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