At impasse with unions and no action from Congress, Southwest Airlines to furlough hundreds of employees

376 transportation, warehouse workers will be furloughed in March unless agreement can be reached

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4 takes off, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Airlines are continuing to pile up billions of dollars in losses as the pandemic causes a massive drop in air travel. Southwest Airlines on Thursday, Oct. 22, lost $1.16 billion in the normally strong third quarter, which includes most of the summer vacation season.(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORLANDO, Fla. – More than 350 Southwest Airline employees working at Orlando International Airport will face a lengthy furlough this spring as a result of financial impacts from the coronavirus pandemic unless an agreement can be made with local unions.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the branch that oversees the state’s unemployment system, was notified in November and on Friday of layoffs and furloughs from Southwest. Employers are required by law to notify state and local leaders of mass layoffs under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act.

Two WARN notices sent on Nov. 18 totaled 27 employees but the latest notice sent to state officials included potential furloughs for hundreds of employees at three Florida airports.

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On Thursday, Southwest Vice President and Chief People Officer Julie Weber sent another WARN notice to Florida saying the company would need to furlough 376 union workers at MCO without federal aide from Congress or if a cost-saving agreement can’t be reached with local unions. Those furloughs would be expected to last six months starting March 15, 2021.

“With (the payroll protection program) expiration and no clarity that Congress will extend it in the future, Southwest must take further action to reduce our costs associated with employee salaries, wages and benefits,” Weber wrote.

In October, Southwest announced plans to reduce wages or engage in other cost-saving measures with not union and non-leadership staff to prevent layoffs. However, for union employees, the company is still working to negotiate these agreements but after two months have not made meaningful progress with multiple unions across the U.S., including several for Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airports.

Customer service agents, ramp, operations, provision and freight agents would be furloughed beginning March 15.

The furloughs in Orlando would happen beginning in April for pilots and flight attendants.

Russell McCrady, Southwest’s vice president of labor relations, sent the following statement to News 6 regarding the news:

“We have been engaged with our unions since early October seeking temporary cost reductions to help offset over one billion dollars of overstaffing costs projected for 2021. 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,” McCrady said.

Southwest officials said WARN notices were issued to a total of 6,828 Southwest Employees in the following workgroups:

  • 2,551 Ramp, Provisioning, Operations, and Cargo Agents represented by Transport Workers Union, AFL-CIO 555 (TWU)
  • 1,176 Customer Service Agents in Ground Operations represented by International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO (IAM)
  • 370 Customer Support and Services and Source of Support Representatives (similar to reservations) represented by International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO (IAM)
  • 1,500 Flight Attendants represented by Transport Workers Union, AFL-CIO 556 (TWU)
  • 1,221 Pilots represented by Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA)
  • Six Flight Instructors represented by Transport Workers Union, AFL-CIO 557 (TWU)
  • Four Flight Simulator Technicians represented by International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)

If Southwest is able to reach an agreement with union workers or Congress passes another federal aid bill, it’s possible to avoid mass furloughs.