Southwest Airlines Is Suing Its Mechanics For Avoiding Overtime
Southwest Airlines has filed a lawsuit that alleges that union leader from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association instructed airline mechanics to decline to work overtime. The airline filed the suit on Wednesday in a Federal Court in Dallas. The union represents mechanics for both Southwest and Alaska Airlines.
According to the Star-Telegram:
The Dallas-based airline alleges that a significant number of mechanics have been refusing to work overtime shifts since Feb. 10 at its Dallas Love Field maintenance operations. Southwest said it saw a 75 percent reduction in the number of mechanics who signed up for overtime and accepted overtime assignments over the weekend.
“As AMFA is well aware, an ongoing concerted refusal to accept overtime assignments may result in foregone or delayed maintenance, expanded use of third-party vendors, and potential delay or cancellation of flights,” the suit says. “The [federal mediator] has not released the parties from mediation. As a result, neither party is lawfully permitted to engage in strikes, lockouts, or other economic self-help.”
Southwest says its operations rely on a consistent level of overtime hours by mechanics to perform necessary maintenance work. For example, on Feb. 9, Southwest had 128 employees sign up for overtime slots and filled all 51 of those slots in Dallas. The next day, only 30 employees signed up for the 44 overtime slots. The lawsuit says a group boycott of overtime has also occurred in Chicago and Phoenix.
The union put out a statement in response to the lawsuit saying,
Historically, carriers have had a high success rate in obtaining federal court injunctions in response to alleged overtime boycotts. Examples include the Delta pilots, the US Airways pilots, the American pilots, and the Machinists at United. Once an injunction has issued, those enjoined may be subject to contempt of court sanctions for future violations. In the American pilot case, the same federal district court in which SWA filed its action imposed compensatory damages of $45.5 million on the union defendants.
SWA appears to be exploiting the alleged overtime boycott as the thin edge of the wedge. The carrier does not simply seek an injunction enjoining overtime-related job actions, but prohibiting “any disruption, curtailment or restriction of Southwest’s normal airline operations….” Carriers have used such broad language in the past to inhibit technicians from reporting maintenance discrepancies. The ensuing result is that technicians, normally guided by their conscience and the Federal Aviation Regulations, must perform their work under the cloud of judicial scrutiny.
The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association’s mission is “To promote and protect the interests of our membership. To raise the standards of and increase recognition of the aircraft maintenance technician and related class or craft. To afford protection for AMFA members before government agencies and expand the education of members’ rights and privileges before Congress whenever it pertains to the craft.” The association’s website explicitly states that workers should not organize to purposefully decline overtime work, saying, “…we now advise you that any concerted (organized) withholding of overtime undermines the interests of our group as a whole.”