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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Pilots strike as airline unions take advantage of summer travel woes

DALLAS ( Associated Press) – Hundreds of uniformed Southwest Airlines pilots stood in perfect lines in the scorching sun at Dallas Love Field on Tuesday, with signs blaming Southwest management for delays and cancellations that upset passengers .

Every once in a while, a motorist yells or screams for encouragement. Most of the passengers lined up for the security checkpoint inside the terminal.

The protest, which the union called to attract 1,300 pilots, was the latest example of airline employees trying to pressure companies with their demands for higher pay for the direct flying public.

Federal law makes it nearly impossible for airline unions to hold a legal strike. Contract negotiations drag on – often for years. Southwest’s flight attendants have been working under an old contract since 2018.

This slow pace causes unions to look for creative ways to put pressure on the management. Sometimes they vote to authorize a strike—Alaska Airlines pilots did Last month – even though there is little chance they will quit.

Last week, the Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA, posted an open letter to customers of Delta Air Lines, saying that its members sympathize with passengers whose flights have been delayed or canceled, and Delta Management. are blaming. The union said Delta had scheduled more flights than the pilots needed to fly, and that the pilots were working record overtime hours.

Earlier this month, American Airlines pilots staged a sit-in at major airports near and before the New York Stock Exchange. Some indicated such as, “Disappointed with AA? And so we.”

Airline unions are hoping to take advantage of strong travel demand this summer to secure an increase in pay and benefits.

United Airlines reached a settlement with ALPA last month. The terms have not been disclosed, but they are likely to include higher salaries – the United CEO called it an industry-leading offer. The deal still needs to be approved by the pilots.

American’s two regional subsidiaries will pay pilots a salary premium of 50% through August 2024 in addition to a longer-term increase. So-called regional carriers, which operate American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express flights, are being hit hardest by the pilot shortage.

On Tuesday at Love Field, which is next to Southwest Headquarters, pilots stood in crisp white short-sleeved shirts with epaulets on their shoulders that read “Southwest’s Operations: Worse Than Ever,” and “Our Passengers.” and pilots”. deserve better.”

Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, a union of the airline’s 9,000 pilots, said the work has turned into a “flightmire” for pilots because of over-scheduling.

“It’s a struggle out there every day. Our fatigue rate reflects that,” he said. In the first five months of this year, Southwest pilots felt three times more fatigued than a year ago, according to union data. Reported to do, who say it raises security concerns.

Southwest said in a brief statement that it respects employees’ right to express their opinion, “and we do not expect any disruption of service as a result of this single performance.” The airline declined to comment on the union’s concerns.

Neither the union nor the company will discuss wages or other bargaining matters.

Dallas-based Southwest has been hiring pilots since last year, who took the buyout the airline offered in 2020, when the pandemic decimated air travel. The union says pilots are not being properly compensated for handling the extra flights, and that Southwest uses outdated crew-scheduling technology that makes it difficult for the airline to recover from even minor hiccups.

Southwest, the nation’s fourth-largest airline, faced high cancellation rates last summer and again in early October, when weather-related cancellations in Florida turned into a one-day nationwide recession. It has fared better recently, including over Memorial Day weekend.

It’s hard to know if picketing at airports helps unions at the bargaining table, if not impossible.

Pilots enjoy special respect from passengers, and when they take off in full uniform, “they create a powerful image” that passengers remember, said Henry Hartvelt, a travel analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.

Hartvelt said pilots currently have an advantage in negotiations due to pilot shortages and widespread flight delays and cancellations.

“But timing is everything in these negotiations,” he said. “If there is a significant slowdown in the economy and airlines see a decline in business and reduce their flying, today the leveraged pilots are gone.”

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