Southwest pilots' union sues carrier over changes to work rules during pandemic travel slump

Southwest Airlines Co.'s plane takes off, as Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), representatives and pilots, demonstrate at Chicago Midway International Airport, MDW in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A, Wednesday, May 18, 2016.
Southwest pilots union sued the carrier this Wednesday, alleging that the airline violated federal labor law by changing work rules during pandemic travel slump without negotiation.

According to the lawsuit filed by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association in Dallas federal court on Monday, those changes included changes in work conditions and pilot pay rates and rules, as well as an "emergency time-off" program.

Southwest refuted the claims that it had to negotiate with the union in order to change.

"Southwest Airlines, just like the rest, has had to respond to unpredictable challenges presented by global COVID-19 pandemic," Russell McCrady (Southwest's vice president for labor relations) said in a statement. The airline disapproves of claims by SWAPA that COVID-related changes made in the last few months needed negotiation.

In the complaint, the pilots union stated that it seeks an injunction to force the company back to its collective bargaining agreement.

This lawsuit is coming as tensions between Southwest's workers & management are rising.

The Southwest pilots' union said this month that it would consider picketing airports during Thanksgiving and Christmas to protest working conditions.

Last week, the company announced that it would reduce its schedules for the remainder of the year due to staff complaints about exhaustion. Pilots and flight attendants also complain about the lack of food and hotels while on the road.

Southwest informed workers this week that it was in negotiations with a food delivery service provider to deliver hot meals to hotels on overnight trips.

"Southwest will pay the monthly subscription cost for this service. We are working with the carrier to reduce delivery fees and substantially lower service fees," Rachel Loudermilk (director base operations), wrote in an email to staff.