Kyle thoughtfully examined the many reasons behind this weekend’s operational meltdown at Southwest Airlines (which is continuing into Monday), but an additional twist may help to explain why we saw so many delays and cancellations: once employees are terminated, they lose their accrued sick days and other benefits. Thus, many are taking them now.
Is Expiring Accrued Leave The Reason For Southwest Operational Meltdown?
Employees at Southwest and American Airlines have been more vocal in their resistance to the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate than at other U.S. carriers. Unions representing pilots at both carriers have condemned the mandatory jab and argued it should not be necessary.
In trying to explain why 24% of flights were cancelled on Saturday and a further 35% delayed (with similar cancellation numbers on Sunday), Southwest has blamed weather and Air Traffic Control. The problem with that theory is that is has not impacted other airlines, who fly under the same weather and use the same ATC systems.
Summer was already a difficult period for Southwest operations due to a pilot shortage and stretched workforce. Throw in employee resistance over a vaccine mandate and the dominos start to fall quickly.
But is it really resistance to the vaccine mandate that is causing these delays and cancellations? Consider the words of a purported Southwest Airlines employee based in Denver, shared with Live and Let’s Fly via a private Facebook group:
“We’re all using our sick time now because they won’t pay it out before they fire us over the mandate. Most of us have almost two weeks worth of sick pay saved up so this will be a long couple of week for y’all, because Southwest used to be an amazing place to work we didn’t take our sick days. That all changed last week with the mandates and the company caving to it instead [of] standing with its employee’s personal rights.”
We cannot verify if this is really a Southwest employee: it is Facebook after all.
But it does present a plausible theory as to why we have seen so many cancellations now: if employees intend to be fired over the vaccine mandate, they will not be able to take their sick days and vacation time with them. Consequently, they will use them now.
Consider this another data point as we try to ascertain what is behind the delays at Southwest. It seems to me that the only new element involved is the vaccine mandate, thus it is likely this at least partially is playing a role.