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Southwest Airlines Pilots Move Toward a Holiday Strike

On the heels of a flight attendant deal, pilots open a regional strike center

By Amy Durham

Three people stand in front of a wall of windows and watch a Southwest Airlines plane take off in the distance.
Travelers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport watch a Southwest Airlines plane | | Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) has opened a Regional Strike Center in Dallas, laying the groundwork for a strike over the busy holiday travel season. The center will serve as a hub for pilot volunteers who will oversee the activities of pilots and aircraft during a strike.

SWAPA initiated the federal mediation process in September 2022 and has engaged in weekly meetings with the mediators and representatives from Southwest Airlines for several months. However, the progress in resolving their contractual issues has been limited. In May, SWAPA’s members at the airline voted in favor of authorizing a strike, with a strong mandate. The vote saw a 98% participation rate, with a resounding 99% of the members endorsing the strike.

Before initiating a strike, the union must follow a process that involves obtaining authorization from the National Mediation Board for entry into a 30-day cooling-off period. Should the National Mediation Board grant approval for the union’s release into this essential cooling-off phase in the upcoming days, it would potentially enable pilots to proceed with strike actions during the bustling holiday travel season.

A Southwest Airlines plane begins its take off on a runway.
Southwest Airlines plane | | Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

“As our negotiations linger and the holiday travel season approaches, we have to be prepared for a strike and that’s exactly what we are doing with the opening of these Centers,” SWAPA President Captain Casey Murray said in a prepared statement. The opening of the strike headquarters is a tangible demonstration of SWAPA’s operational proficiency and state of readiness. This is the first time in the history of Southwest Airlines when a workgroup has progressed to such an advanced stage in the strike preparation process.

Over the last two years, labor unions across the country within the aerospace, construction, airline, and rail sectors have been actively advocating for improved compensation packages and enhanced benefits. These efforts have unfolded amidst a labor market characterized by significant competition and tight labor conditions.

A handler moves a box off the ramp near a Southwest Airlines plane.
Transport worker unloads a Southwest Airlines plane | | Photo by Stephen M. Keller, courtesy of Southwest Airlines

In October, the union representing Southwest flight attendants successfully achieved a tentative agreement that spans a proposed five-year contract and includes a 36% increase in pay for the flight attendants. This positive resolution comes after a prolonged and occasionally contentious period of five years of negotiations, characterized by the looming threat of strike action. The protracted discussions strained the relationship between the airline and one of its largest and most crucial workgroups.

During the month of August, the airline successfully reached a preliminary labor agreement with the union that serves as the representative body for approximately 17,120 transport workers responsible for various critical functions, including ramp operations, provisioning, and cargo handling.

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines pilots have already ratified new contracts earlier this year. However, neither American nor United Airlines have reached an agreement with flight attendants yet.