Pilots’ Union Sue Southwest Airlines over New Jet to be added to Fleet

Southwest Airlanes plane

Pilots’ union sued the carrier in federal court, asking for a new jet plane to be negotiated into an approved contract.

On Monday, Southwest Airlines pilots’ union filed a complaint against the carrier asking a Dallas federal court to prevent a new aircraft from being added to the existing jet fleet. Pilots argued that the 737 Max is not covered by their future contract with the company, which now employs the jet as an ‘illegal gun to the head’ of its workers.

Southwest Airlines Co. said that the suit was both unnecessary and premature.

About 8,300 pilots now want the new plane to be included in a new contract. The union also requested from the court to order the carrier to stop the “frustrating bargaining” over the new contract and take all steps necessary to reach an agreement before 737 Max’s delivery in 2017.

There is also the possibility of an early delivery of the aircraft, which makes the situation all the more tense. The company and its pilots have been negotiating the terms of a new contract for more than four years but they failed to reach a solution.

According to people familiar with the matter, the new airplane could be delivered in March, so the union has plenty of time to add an extra pressure on the company. If parties fail to ink a new deal, the jet is expected to sit idle at Southwest.

According to court documents, the airline company is now trying to speed things up but to the detriment of its pilots with an “an illegal gun to the head” of The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA). Pilots claim that the carrier has recently pressurized them into an “illegal game of chicken.”

The airliner’s CEO Gary Kelly argued that the lawsuit was unnecessary since, under the old contract, the union agreed to solve all the complaints related to the new contract through a grievance arbitration process, not a court lawsuit.

Kelly also argued that the new jet is no different from other aircrafts included in the old contract except for a stronger engine and thus it should be flown. The industry usually lists all new aircrafts in its pilot contracts and specifies pay rates for each plane. But in 737 Max’s case that never happened.

Southwest pilots’ lawsuit includes both the Max 8 and the Max 7 versions of the aircraft. Max 7 is expected to be delivered in 2019.

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