Southwest Airlines and its pilots union, SWAPA, have been working on a new collective bargaining agreement for nearly half a decade, and it’s been tense.
Now, the tension between the airline and the union has reached new heights, with a lawsuit that would effectively ground the airline’s incoming fleet of Boeing 737MAX airliners. With the suit, filed Monday in Federal court, the pilot’s union claims the new plane is not included in its current contract. So asking pilots to fly these aircraft are “unlawful tactics” SWAPA alleges.
“Each new type of 737 that has joined the Southwest fleet over the years has required contractual agreement,” said SWAPA President’s, Captain Jon Weaks, in a statement.
“We believe Southwest Airlines, in planning to fly the MAX without a contract for it, is threatening a breach of status quo under Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act.”
“Pilots cannot be forced into labor without a contract in place,” Weaks added.
In response, Southwest Airlines issued the following statement to Business Insider:
Southwest is aware of the lawsuit filed by SWAPA regarding the 737-8 (MAX). The Company’s position is that SWAPA’s lawsuit is unnecessary and premature. Southwest will not operate the 737-8 (MAX) until sometime in 2017, making any disagreement between Southwest and SWAPA theoretical at this point. Southwest and SWAPA are currently in contract negotiations and any item related to the 737-8 (MAX) could be resolved through that process well before these aircraft enter service.If a new contract is not reached before delivery of the 737-8 (MAX), Southwest believes we have the right to fly the aircraft under the current contract. If SWAPA disputes that contract interpretation, they must use the grievance arbitration process outlined under the agreement between Southwest and SWAPA for a resolution, not initiate legal action. While we are disappointed in SWAPA’s unnecessary lawsuit, we remain confident in our position.
The airline and the union are currently in Federal mediation and have been working on a new agreement since 2012.
Southwest is one Boeing’s largest and most important customers, with a fleet of more than 700 Boeing 737 aircraft. The Dallas-based airline is scheduled to be the launch partner for Boeing’s next generation 737MAX, set to begin delivery next year.
Southwest currently has a firm order for 200 Boeing 737MAX airliners.
Boeing was not immediately available for comment.