Southwest Airways warns towards using 6,800 individuals to chop prices

Travelers wearing protective masks cross a street outside a Southwest Airlines Co. check-in area at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, California, United States on Monday, October 19, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines said Thursday it could take more than 6,800 employees – about 12% of its workforce – on leave, citing what it called a “lack of significant progress” in cost-cutting negotiations with unions.

Southwest, like other airlines, is grappling with the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on air travel demand. If Southwest pushes the downsizing, it will be the first involuntary vacation days in his nearly 50 years of flying.

The Dallas-based airline has sent mandatory notices nationwide notifying that their jobs could be at risk for 6,828 employees, including more than 1,200 pilots, 1,500 flight attendants, 1,110 customer service agents and more than 2,500 ramp, cargo and other operations employees .

The vacation days would take effect on either March 15 or April 1, or within two weeks of that date, unless the airline makes cost-cutting agreements with unions or Congress passes additional aid to the sector, the airline said.

Such vacation warnings are typically sent to workers 60 days prior to a possible vacation, and at least one union representing the company’s pilots opposed the move as a bargaining tactic to pressure workers.

Southwest has asked the working groups to agree on wage cuts and other vacation avoidance terms that some unions have been reluctant to oppose, arguing the company has not considered their proposals to cut costs such as partially paid voluntary leave.

“Today marks a sad milestone in the history of Southwest Airlines,” said Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the union that represents around 9,000 pilots at the airline, in a video message seen on CNBC. “While this development is not entirely surprising, it is incredibly disappointing for our pilots and their families.”

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