Southwest Airlines Co. ’s pilots have sued the airline, alleging that the carrier has been making unilateral changes to working conditions, including no longer paying them during quarantines following Covid-19 exposure.
In a complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association alleged that the airline acted unilaterally rather than bargaining with the union when the pandemic began to affect travel demand in the spring of 2020. The company has said it doesn’t agree that it needed to negotiate with the union over measures it implemented in response to the pandemic.
Tensions between Southwest and some of its labor groups have flared during the pandemic. Last fall the airline sought pay concessions and threatened to furlough workers, prompting a backlash from unions.
While the airline didn’t end up cutting workers, unions representing pilots and flight attendants have become increasingly vocal about their frustrations, complaining that Southwest hasn’t staffed up quickly enough as it ramped up to meet a surge of demand this summer, leaving workers stretched thin. Pilots have threatened to picket ahead of the winter holidays. The airline has apologized to workers for difficulties this summer and is stepping up hiring efforts.
In the lawsuit, the union cited the extended time-off program Southwest set up last year, offering pilots the option to take time off from flying and forgo pay in an effort to conserve cash, as an example of something that the company and union should have negotiated.