Southwest Airlines Sues Its Unionized Mechanics

DALLAS (CN) – Southwest Airlines sued its mechanics’ union Wednesday, claiming its members illegally boycotted overtime shifts last weekend in their ongoing collective bargaining for a new contract.

The Dallas-based airline sued the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and several union officers and local union representatives in Federal Court, under the Railway Labor Act. Southwest claims that under their most recent collective bargaining agreement, of 2012, the union agreed to “not authorize or take part in any strike” or picketing of Southwest premises.

The airline and the mechanics have failed to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, after 16 mediation sessions since November 2015. Southwest says the National Mediation Board has not released the parties from mediation, so any strike or lockout would be illegal.

“Southwest’s operations rely on a relatively consistent level of overtime hours by AMFA-represented employees to perform necessary maintenance work,” the complaint states. “In early February 2017, Southwest learned that AMFA and AMFA-represented employees were organizing and encouraging a group boycott of overtime work from February 10, 2017 to February 20, 2017 … Southwest then observed a stark drop – approximately a 75 percent reduction – in the number of AMFA-represented employees who signed up for overtime and those who actually accepted overtime assignments in Dallas and other Southwest maintenance facilities for the weekend of February 11-12, 2017.”

Southwest claims the union sent a notice to members on Feb. 12 stating that it did not call for an overtime boycott and that decisions not to volunteer must be made on an individual basis. This indicates the union can do more to end the boycott, the airline says, citing a similar action in June 2016 in Houston when technicians purportedly refused overtime and the union “effectively exercised its power to timely end the unlawful job action.”

AMFA National Director Bret Oestreich acknowledged Thursday that airlines have had a “high success rate” in securing injunctions from federal courts regarding overtime boycotts. However, he criticized Southwest for exploiting the alleged boycott “as the thin edge of the wedge” by seeking to enjoining all disruptions of airline operations, not just a boycott.

“The ensuing result is that technicians, normally guided by their conscience and the federal aviation regulations, must perform their work under the cloud of judicial scrutiny,” Oestreich wrote in a letter to members. “We now advise you that any concerted (organized) withholding of overtime undermines the interests of our group as a whole. We direct our members to cease all unlawful job actions.”

Southwest seeks declaratory judgment that the alleged boycott is illegal self-help in violation of the Railway Labor Act. It also seeks a permanent injunction against any disruption in normal airline operations. It is represented by Ann Marie Arcadi with Morgan Lewis in Dallas.