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The Company's Duties Under the RLA – Breached

The Company's Duties Under the RLA – Breached

August 25, 2021

As an airline carrier, Southwest Airlines must operate within the confines of the Railway Labor Act. Two sections are key to our discussion today. Section 2, First of the RLA (a.k.a., the heart of the RLA) requires that a carrier and the union “exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements” about “rates of pay, rules, and working conditions.” Parties must bargain in good faith. Another section, Section 6, of the RLA establishes the procedures for collective bargaining. This is where you might have heard the term “Section 6 negotiations” which refer to formal contract negotiations.

Once a Section 6 notice has been served — the official opening of negotiations — neither side can change status quo until all the bargaining procedures of the RLA have been exhausted. Neither side can change current practice under the prior agreement, regardless of whether or not the practice is reflected in the terms of the written agreement. While status quo prevents the union from striking, it also prevents management from doing anything that would justify a strike. These are the rules of engagement. Rules that Southwest has demonstrably violated, which forced SWAPA to send a letter two weeks ago to Flight Operations demanding they cease doing so.

On November 1, 2019, SWAPA served its Section 6 notice to Southwest for an early reopener, which officially began direct negotiations in March 2020. Since early 2020, the Company has flouted its duty to maintain status quo. Even before COVID, the Company was derelict in its duty to maintain status quo.

Recall when the Company unilaterally delayed implementation of the Pilots’ deferral rate change to their 401(k) accounts?

Recall when the Company unilaterally reduced drug benefits for our Pilot membership?

Recall when the Company tried to negotiate new working rules and pay directly with Check Airmen under the guise of a “Check Airmen scheduling test” that same year?

Each time, SWAPA had to beat back the affronts with formal demands and threats of federal lawsuit. Since COVID, the Company has continued to violate status quo, knowing that it had no right to force majeure relief under our CBA.

Recall ETO.

Recall ExTO.

The Company has a clear history of willful and intentional disregard for its duties under the RLA. 

Mandatory quarantines are another unilateral decision. Such a mandate may be okay for Southwest’s at-will employees. Pilots, however, are not at-will employees. Pilots’ working conditions, rules, and rates of pay are contractual.

Under management rights, the employer may implement certain operational policies. As a private employer, the Company may also implement “enterprise”-level decisions. Neither of these can change nor alter nor modify our CBA. The Company’s issuance of its Infectious Disease Control Policy did exactly that. It changed, altered, and modified our CBA by forcing new work conditions and rules that give the Company the right to take away flying awarded to Pilots. It also gave the Company the un-bargained-for right to take Pilots’ sick bank to subsidize the Company’s costs in operational quarantines. Unilateral decisions such as these are in violation of the RLA, which mandates status quo and good faith bargaining.

SWAPA has asked to bargain since the start of the pandemic. The Company has continued to shut us out and refused to come to the table to resolve some of these issues. The Company’s bad faith is palpable as we exhaust our voice trying to get the Company to the bargaining table.

If Southwest remains unwilling to bargain in good faith, SWAPA will be forced to seek federal court intervention to protect our Pilots’ rights under the RLA. The Company must be enjoined from breach of status quo and our Pilots must be made whole.