After three and a half years of negotiations, Southwest airline pilots’ plight for a better contract deal could end in an agreement on Nov. 30.
Federal mediators now overseeing negotiations under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) expect that Southwest Airlines and the Southwest Airline Pilots Association (SWAPA) will reach an agreement by this date. But if federal mediators declare an impasse and grant SWAPA's request to be released from mediation, the pilots could strike after an emergency recommendation and a 30-day cool-down period.
“Our pilots deserve a contract that befits the most productive pilots in the industry, and we have been attempting to get Southwest to realize that their delay in reaching an agreement is causing irreparable harm not just to our pilots, but to the airline itself. We are willing to take the RLA process all the way to its conclusion to ensure that our airline and our pilots have secure futures,” said SWAPA president Captain Casey Murray. “Southwest Airlines simply cannot afford to sit idly by while every other carrier continues to reward their pilots and lure them away with better contracts and benefits.”
Since SWAPA requested to be released from the National Mediation Board, which SWAPA believed was not making progress, negotiators began meeting weekly to try and nail down the contract agreement. Southwest pilots are primarily asking the airline for improved scheduling systems and staff management processes.
SWAPA members voted overwhelmingly in May in favor of authorizing a strike should they be released by federal mediators with no agreement. Recognizing the enormous impact a pilot strike would have on flights, the decision to strike is “not one that our pilots take lightly,” a SWAPA spokesperson told TMR.
But to SWAPA’s nearly 11,000 pilots, a strike would mean that Southwest was unable to reach an agreement that they desperately need to pave the way for the future of Southwest, ensuring fewer delays, interruptions, and flight cancelations that affect both Southwest workers and passengers.
“Our end goal is a new contract that will help our mutual interests as stakeholders in Southwest Airlines,” SWAPA said in a statement. “Pilots and our passengers will benefit from scheduling processes that help rather than hinder the operation, and a contract that attracts and retains the most experienced, qualified, and safest pilot candidates.”
Other major airlines, including Delta, United, and American, all came to pilot labor agreements recently. In those cases, pilots were primarily fighting for wage increases and improved benefit packages – not upgraded scheduling systems.
In December 2022, Southwest’s disorganization was revealed when the airline’s lack of winter resiliency and staffing challenges caused major delays and cancelations during the holiday season. Southwest detailed in an after-action report its steps to ensure such a major disruption repeat itself.
A Southwest spokesperson told TMR in a statement that "we continue meeting weekly with SWAPA and our assigned mediators from the National Mediation Board as we collectively work toward a new contract that rewards our Pilots."