Southwest Airlines has not laid off a single worker in its entire 53-year history. But with air travel recovery stalled and unions not agreeing to deeper concessions, nearly 7,000 employees have been warned they may be the first to face furloughs.
Southwest Airlines Employees Face First Furloughs In Company History
While Southwest has prided itself in never having to layoff or furlough a worker, the pandemic presents a new and unique challenge. Even though successful vaccine trials provide light at the end of the tunnel, widespread distribution is months away and even then travel restrictions will not automatically lift.
Under U.S. federal law, Southwest must send employees so-called WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act) notices which provide a 90-day notice of potential termination. These notices have now been sent to 6,800 employees. While that does not mean all (or any) employees will necessarily face layoffs, it does move Southwest one step closer to such a move. Southwest claims it cannot afford $1 billion in “overstaffing costs.”
Russell McCrady, Southwest’s Vice President of Labor Relations, noted:
“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. 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.”
Reading between the lines, the WARN notices could all be a ploy to scare unions into making negotiations…
Nevertheless, the WARN notices went out to the following 6,828 employees:
- 2,551 airport ramp, provisioning, operations and cargo agents
- 1,500 flight attendants
- 1,221 pilots
- 1,176 customer service agents
Labor and management will now return to the negotiating table. More senior employees, however, have expressed an unwillingness to make further concessions.
Southwest has an unbelievably impressive record of no layoffs. While I hope that can continue in the months ahead, the substantial drop in demand mark an unprecedented challenge to the Dallas-based carrier.
image: Southwest Airlines