January 18, 2023
Last week, I joined your Negotiating Committee in Phoenix for mediation. I was there to observe the Company’s intentions coming off the meltdown and to see if there was any new imperative to conclude negotiations. I have made it clear from the VP of Flight Operations all the way to Bob Jordan that the guardrails and efficiencies built into Contract 2020 will provide a stronger foundation for a more predictable operation. I have also driven home the fact that removing the uncertainty of negotiations will remove a huge distraction in an operation that’s in the red, thanks in part to too many distractions.
Unfortunately, Carl Kuwitzky continued with what has become a very real denial of what Southwest is facing and a complete lack of respect for each of you, as well as your SWAPA team. While there were several examples last week, let me give you just one. As the delays mounted on the first day, Jody made a request to continue negotiating. Mr. Kuwitzky refused, saying he had a hard stop for a phone call at 1700. When the meeting carried on past 1700, we asked about his supposed hard stop. Turned out it was more of a “phone call window” and he went on to say, “We started at 0800 and it’s been a long day.” I thought about how tone deaf a “long” nine-hour day would sound to the thousands of you on duty at that moment when Carl made a fatigue call.
While I can honestly say that none of this is surprising, I needed to be there in person to make the observation myself. As the Company still hasn’t placed any impetus on expediting, or at the very least recognizing, that we are in year three with very, very little progress, today I am formally calling for a Strike Authorization Vote (SAV). This action is not one that I take lightly, but based on Mr. Kuwitzky’s behavior in the room and lack of intervention by our CEO or COO, it is our only option.
While your SWAPA board of directors and executive officers have had many strategic discussions on timing, I think it is best to consider what our customers have been through over the past several weeks. The initial plan was to begin the SAV in March, but we believe that May 1 provides a date that we can best prepare for and give our customers time to book elsewhere so that they may have confidence in their summer vacations, honeymoons, and family outings.
This decision is not one based on emotion, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t angry. I'm angry because it doesn’t need to be this way. I'm angry because we are 869 days past our amendable date and Labor Relations refuses to discuss your work rules. Our airline just suffered a loss of $825 million due to outdated technology and procedures. That loss occurred days after Mr. Jordan announced the resumption of shareholder returns worth $400 million, while two thirds of SWA’s labor groups work under amendable CBAs. That loss will also reduce employee profit sharing by $120 million. You have endured years of scheduling mismanagement leading to record fatigue calls in the last two years and more than 26,000 JA duty periods since the end of the pandemic. And despite having SWAPA’s Contract 2020 playbook in hand for more than three years, management still holds your Union at arm’s length and refuses to collaborate to improve and repair the operation.
This is a historic but sad day in Southwest Airlines’ and SWAPA’s history. SWAPA Pilots have never before been forced to hold an SAV. Unfortunately, this is a day that we knew was coming, due to the lack of leadership Bob Jordan has shown in directing Mr. Kuwitzky. He has allowed Mr. Kuwitzky to continue to stall and use delay tactics for far too long. The reality is strong leadership is needed with specific guidance given to Mr. Kuwitzky to get to work and get a deal. A contract is needed now more than ever to address our failing operation, mitigate the fatigue that is affecting the safety of our operation, and to staunch the bleeding of Pilots who are leaving Southwest for better working conditions in ever-increasing numbers.
Beginning immediately, SWAPA will begin a communication campaign which will ensure that all of our Pilots are properly educated on the SAV and understand their role in voting in support of a contract. A full complement of Rallies is currently being scheduled so that we can have open discussions as to the whys of an SAV, as well as what SWAPA’s expectations are of each of you. We want you to be prepared. In that vein, we are currently negotiating gratitude pay to compensate our Pilots who suffered through the meltdown. If we are successful, I strongly recommend that you use that money as the first deposit into a strike fund.
This is a day that we knew was coming, due to lack of diligence on Southwest’s part, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it must be done, and it will take each of us, as well as our families, to make the best decisions for our future.