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Southwest pilots vote ‘yes’ to strike

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A Southwest Airlines plane taxis on the runway at a Long Beach Airport terminal in Long Beach, Calif.

A Southwest Airlines plane taxis on the runway at a Long Beach Airport terminal, April 18, 2023, in Long Beach, Calif. Pilots at Southwest Airlines voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, their union said Thursday, May 11, a move that is unlikely to lead to a walkout in the near future but is designed to put more pressure on the airline during contract negotiations.

Ashley Landis, Associated Press

The overwhelming majority of Southwest pilots have voted to start a strike if the airline does not make changes after three years of negotiations and staffing shortages.

Southwest’s labor union, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, opened a vote at the beginning of May on whether pilots wanted to strike, per a statement. The vote was supposed to go until the end of the month, but by May 11, 98% of the pilots had voted — 99% of whom voted “yes.”

SWAPA’s president, Casey Murray, said that a “lack of leadership,” coupled with an “unwillingness to address the failures” of the organization, are what ultimately drove the pilots to vote for the strike.

Negotiations have already been in process for three years.

“Our pilots are tired of apologizing to our passengers on behalf of a company that refuses to place its priorities on its internal and external customers,” Murray said.

It may be ingrained in the public’s memory about the chaos that happened during the previous holiday season, when more than 70% of Southwest flights were canceled.

While no strike is currently happening and one is not scheduled to happen, it gives the labor union power to leverage during ongoing negotiations on behalf of the pilots.

Southwest’s vice president of labor relations, Adam Carlisle, said that the two groups are working “toward a new agreement to reward” the pilots, per a statement.

In the statement, the airline said that it is “staffed and prepared to welcome travelers for their summer travel plans” and do not expect mediations to result in a walkout at any point.

Legally, Southwest explained, all other “bargaining processes” between the two parties would have to be exhausted for a strike to occur.

A look at other airlines farther along in the process could give a possible future for Southwest. Pilots of American Airlines have also already approved a strike earlier this month, reported Reuters.