After what Southwest Airlines called “a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations” with multiple unions, Las Vegas’ busiest carrier on Thursday issued notices that more than 6,800 employees could be furloughed.
Among the 6,828 employees sent Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notices were 1,500 flight attendants and 1,221 pilots, according to Southwest. The airline didn’t have a breakdown of affected employees by city, but the Transportation Workers Union of America Local 556 that represents the 1,500 flight attendants confirmed Las Vegas-based flight attendants were included in the WARN notice.
Southwest has been working with its unions since early October to seek temporary cost reductions to help offset more than $1 billion in overstaffing costs projected for 2021, according to a statement from Russell McCrady, Southwest vice president of labor relations.
“Our absolute goal is to preserve every job at Southwest Airlines; however, due to a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations, we had to proceed with issuing notifications to additional employees who are valued members of the Southwest Family,” McCrady said in the statement. “We are willing to continue negotiations quickly to preserve jobs if we can achieve the support that allows Southwest to combat the ongoing economic challenges created by the decline in demand for air travel.”
The plan Southwest presented is aimed at reducing costs by 10 percent, which includes some pay reductions for employees.
Southwest employs nearly 58,000 people. Similar deals have been reached with other employee groups, including dispatch and meteorologist work groups, who are protected from furloughs throughout 2021 as part of the deal.
The involuntary furloughs will occur within 14 days of March 15 or April 1, depending on work group, unless Southwest reaches cost-saving agreements or the federal government enacts a Payroll Support Program extension.
The Transportation Workers Union, which represents 16,000 flight attendants nationwide, rebuked Southwest’s claim that the union was to blame for lack of progress in the negotiating process. The union called the possible furloughs a “blatant attempt to lower long-term labor costs rather than as a result of the pandemic afflicting the country.”
“Southwest Airlines has approximately $15 billion in cash on hand and is predicted to be the first airline to emerge in making money for its shareholders,” Dan Akins, airline economist and advisor to TWU Local 556, said in a statement.
The TWU noted Southwest flight attendants already have been proactive in trying to cut costs, with over 5,000 flight attendants taking extended leaves of absence or taking involuntary separations, which reduced their workforce by 32 percent. The union said those voluntary actions helped Southwest save $1.1 billion in 2021.
Flight attendants also proposed additional cost savings programs to Southwest, but those were rejected by the airline, the TWU said.
TWU Local 556 said a survey it conducted revealed more than 3,700 flight attendants would be willing to take additional voluntary leave programs if offered by Southwest.
“Our members have raised their hands in creating cost savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and feedback from our members, including our survey, shows that we can meet these needs,” Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, said in a statement. “Our union is fighting for every job. The fact that Southwest Airlines refuses to engage in either real bargaining or in allowing its employees to volunteer to make change is an affront to the brave women and men in the air, and it’s an egregious assault against our company culture.”