Spoilers Deploy in Southwest Merger

AMFA Mechanics Union Votes NO

The merger of two airlines involves a lot more than repainting aircraft, especially in the heavily unionized airline industry. Southwest Airlines Aircraft Mechanics, 1600 strong, are represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) while the 400 AirTran Aircraft Mechanics are represented by The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

A tentative seniority agreement to merge the two work groups was developed by Southwest Airlines management and the aircraft mechanics.  The agreement went up for a vote and was shot down by the AMFA; if approved, it would have integrated seniority lists of the employee groups from Southwest and AirTran.

Disagreement between union work groups isn’t anything new when it comes to mergers in the airline industry.  Look at the somewhat recent merger between America West and US Airways – for several years there was “US Airways East” and “US Airways West” — combining unions with the Delta-Northwest merger wasn’t an easy one either.

While Southwest and AirTran Pilots, Flight Instructors, and Flight Attendants have successfully completed the Seniority Integration negotiation process, additional work groups have not reached agreements.  Employee groups that haven’t integrated include:

  • Aircraft Mechanics;
  • Ramp, Operations, and Provisioning Agents;
  • Customer Service Agents and Customer Support and Service Employees;
  • Dispatchers;
  • Materials Specialists.

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The next step will involve the joint filing for arbitration by AMFA and IBT.  This is a step Southwest would prefer to avoid and in a statement, Southwest has indicated they’re open to working with both Unions to reach a resolution for integration before any type of arbitration starts.

Jim Sokol, Southwest Airlines Vice President of Maintenance Operations, spoke of the matter and said, “With the rejection of the seniority integration proposal, we understand that Employees have different perspectives and opinions on this issue, but our goal continues to be the speedy resolution of seniority integration.”  Sokol Continues, “”Our vested interest remains focused on our Employees, and we fully support a proposal that meets their needs without increasing complexity, creating division, or diminishing Southwest’s Culture.”

From looking at schedules and aircraft utilization, it’s obvious Southwest would like to reach resolution in a timely manner.  The sooner the two air carriers can merge their work groups, the faster Southwest can convert routes and operate as one brand which will benefit consumers, employees, and stakeholders alike.

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02.23.12

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