American, Southwest pilots’ unions threaten to strike, however unlikely

Miami International Airport
American Airlines aircraft are parked at Miami International Airport on March 5, 2017. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) – Pilots for two major airlines are threatening to walk off the job just as the summer travel season approaches, though an actual stoppage would have to occur with President Joe Biden and Congress opting to stay on the sidelines.

The Allied Pilots Association, a union representing 15,000 American Airlines pilots, announced Monday that its membership voted in favor of authorizing a strike.

“The summer travel season is almost here, and we’re all wondering whether this will be another summer of uncertainty for American Airlines,” said Capt. Ed Sicher, APA President. “Fortunately, there is an alternative. By embracing the win-win scheduling and work rule improvements APA has presented at the bargaining table, management can take steps to improve the airline’s operational reliability and efficiency.”

The union’s strike authorization vote lasted the month of April.

Meanwhile, pilots flying for Southwest Airlines announced Monday they had begun the process of tallying votes to authorize a strike of their own.

“We have been attempting to negotiate with Southwest in earnest for years, but they have shown no willingness to address some of the issues that impact not only our pilots but our customers as well, such as scheduling work rules and technology improvements,” said Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Casey Murray. “The lack of discussion or commitment by our leadership team to rectify these issues for our passengers and our pilots are driving us to carry forward on this path afforded to us by the Railway Labor Act.”

The union notes that the strike threat comes months after the airline’s “December meltdown” caused by a winter storm and scheduling errors that left thousands of passengers stranded over the holiday season. The issue spurred a congressional hearing.

Both airlines have released statements stressing progress is happening in their respective negotiations, according to multiple media reports.

While the pilots can authorize a strike, they are limited to the decades-old law Murray mentioned. The Railway Labor Act of 1926 places several hurdles before something as disruptive as a rail operator or airline would suffer a work stoppage, disrupting interstate commerce. The RLA forces parties to bargain in a mediated setting in good faith when Congress is in session. If the two sides fail to come to an agreement, Biden can order a “cooling off period” that ensures operations continue. Congress can also intervene to force actions by the bargaining parties.

— Cole Lauterbach

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