Is it safe to fly Southwest? Mechanics' union raises question

February 20, 2019 - 6:55 am

Jennifer Kushinka reporting...

Following a spike in flight cancellations and delays in the past several daysdue to reported maintenance issues, Southwest Airlines has taken the unusual step of publicly apologizing to customers and blaming the mess on its mechanics' union. 

The airline, which has been in contract talks with its mechanics union since 2012, says it will be investigating the "current disruption and exploring all possible remedies.''  

The union fired back, saying Southwest’s “scapegoating” of its technicians doesn’t bode well forthe airline’s safe operations.

Here is the full statement from Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven:

Southwest has been negotiating with Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), which represents our nearly 2,400 mechanics, for more than six years. We are extremely proud of our Mechanics, which is why we were glad to offer them a tentative agreement with an industry-leading pay package last fall that our Mechanics did not approve. We are anxious to reward them, we have been actively engaged in ongoing mediated negotiations since then and we have enhanced our previous contract offer.

On Feb. 12, just days after our last negotiations session with AMFA, we experienced an unprecedented number of out-of-service aircraft in four specific maintenance locations despite no change in our maintenance programs, no changes in leadership, and no changes in our policies and procedures. We are committed to operating a safe fleet, and every report is investigated, which is why we issued a notice to require an "all hands" response to get out-of-service aircraft back into the fleet serving our Customers.

The out-of-service aircraft were driven primarily from four of our 20 maintenance locations and by a subset of our entire mechanic workforce.
The number of aircraft out of the fleet has driven cancellations, in some cases extremely long delays and other operational impacts over the last week.
Southwest utilizes a regular team of approved third-party vendors to help with our ongoing maintenance program. Currently, we are assigning as much scheduled maintenance program work to those providers as possible which allows our Southwest mechanics to work the increased workload of maintenance tasks they have identified.
AMFA has a history of work disruptions, and Southwest has two pending lawsuits against the union. We will be investigating this current disruption and exploring all possible remedies. Southwest prides itself on its reliability and works hard each day to get its Customers where they want to go. We apologize to our Customers who have been inconvenienced by this disruption.

Here is how  Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association National Director Bret Oestreich responded:

Southwest Airline’s scapegoating of its expert Aircraft Maintenance Technicians does not bode well for the airline’s safe operations. Safety is, and always will be, our number one priority. For Southwest's leadership to connect the airline’s self-declared “operational emergency” to collective bargaining negotiations is simply an attempt to divert attention away from the airline’s safety issues. The FAA has condemned the carrier’s “capitulation of airworthiness” and Southwest has confessed that it has flown passengers in unairworthy aircraft. These glaring issues and the widespread pressuring of aircraft maintenance technicians by the airline were exposed in the recent CBS News report.

Southwest Airlines Vice President of Maintenance Operations, Landon Nitschke, demanded that the airline’s aircraft maintenance technicians focus on “compliance, compliance, compliance,” but now we are threatened with the further coercive pressure of litigation. Southwest Airlines’ mechanics are working the overtime demanded of them. But Southwest Airlines has the fewest mechanics to aircraft of any major carrier. We will continue to do our job as expert craftsman, for the safety of Southwest’s passengers.

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