Delay and Distort: The Truth About What Really Happened During Our Negotiations With Southwest

A stunning lack of transparency, and stunning lack of respect

As we wrote in our member update Friday, the AMFA negotiating committee was “prepared to receive the Company’s counterproposal this week and advised the Company we wanted to reach a deal,” however “the Company is not currently engaged in good faith negotiation.Likewise, Southwest Airlines wrote an employee update of its own, and described the talks as “tough and disappointing” in its characterization. We agree — but what followed in Southwest’s update so egregiously mischaracterized the facts of both the last week and really the last six years, we must address them head-on.

Let’s take the Southwest update piece by piece. Southwest wrote in its Mediation Update:

On Thursday, Justin Jones, Vice President Tech Ops Planning and Performance, and his Team kicked off the day with a presentation about AMFA’s data request regarding international outsourcing. Justin provided them with confidential information and data about the intent of our outsourcing proposal and the financial valuation.

While we appreciated hearing from Justin Jones, this was a bit of “too little too late.” What the Company fails in its update is the response to our information request regarding foreign outsourcing during our January mediation session. Southwest denied our request for any information, saying instead our request was “not relevant or necessary to evaluate our proposal.” This lack of transparency was disappointing, if not surprising. The Company continued:

Justin was clear with AMFA that the intent of our outsourcing proposal was to create an avenue to increase your compensation without any negative impact to you or your contract. He was also clear that we are not proposing any changes to the amount or type of work we currently outsource today.

This is simply a willful misrepresentation of the issue — there’s a reason, when the company first requested to send maintenance overseas during negotiations toward the White Book, we worked together to come up with “Letter Of Agreement #1” (LOA 1), which allowed Southwest the limited ability to go overseas for heavy maintenance with strict protections for AMFA members. The Company’s current proposal would delete the entire section in our contract which restricts Southwest from any foreign outsourcing without the Union’s consent. This is clearly something either side, if looking at the issue objectively, would see as a means to drive the parties further apart. More from the update:

Unfortunately, AMFA became combative and disrespectful during the presentation. These types of antics absolutely do not get us closer to reaching an agreement.

Again, this sort of dishonesty to the Company’s own employees is disappointing. We were not combative and disrespectful during Justin’s presentation. We expressed our disappointment that, at the conclusion of Justin’s presentation, it became clear the Company had not prepared a counterproposal. The alleged “antics” were not the roadblock to reaching an agreement — coming to a negotiating session mediated by the federal government without a counterproposal or even the intention to deliver a counterproposal is the sole reason the parties did not move closer to an agreement this week.

Something else was quite disappointing too — after Justin was done speaking and we went to caucus, we were informed that Justin and his team would not be returning for the day. Further, we were told during the presentation that Justin had no authority to negotiate. This was not an exchange of ideas — Southwest denied our information request, and then proceeded to put a member of its team who had virtually no experience with Aircraft Maintenance Technician work and no connection to the negotiations in front of us for a Powerpoint presentation, before promptly leaving for the day. “Antics”? The antics were on the other side of the table, as not one person on the Company’s committee seated at the table or in the room is from Maintenance Tech Ops with decision making power, or know the underlying work rule offsets it has asked for.

Another troubling issue is the lack of bargaining authority maintained by the Company’s new committee. This week, the Company stated it needed to “talk with the powers that be” for further discussion. This is a phrase used to refer to those individuals or groups who collectively hold authority over a particular domain. It has become clear this new Committee cannot agree to anything of substance without first stalling negotiations to “talk with the powers that be.” More from Southwest’s update:

It is not unusual at this stage in negotiations for the Mediator to separate the Teams to begin working with them independently on paths forward. During this process, it is also normal for no official proposals to be exchanged.

This may be one of the more absurd elements of the update. First of all, the Mediator asked both sides in January to limit the details in these updates. We did that in January (to be fair, so did Southwest), and we did again Friday. Clearly, as you can see, the Company did not honor the Mediator’s request.

But to this idea that it’s somehow “normal for no official proposals to be exchanged” — this is another Southwest distortion. As we stated, we left our January negotiating session by handing a proposal to Southwest. We fully expected to receive a counterproposal — that’s how it works when you’re involved in a negotiation where a deal is the ideal outcome. As requested by the mediator, but ignored by Southwest, we will not discuss specific contents of any mediator input. However, we can tell you Southwest failed to make any substantive movement even through the mediator this past week.

But as we found out, a deal is not really what the Company wants. We were told by the Company that “we did not view that as a proposal,” regarding our January proposal. This is absurd. We presented a proposal, which, as we discussed at the time, was a change in economics-only. Just because Southwest doesn’t want to view this as a proposal, doesn’t make it suddenly not one. But more to the point, where does that leave us? In Southwest’s update, it said, “Dialogue on this and all topics will continue in the scheduled March mediation session” — but even that isn’t definitely true. What is there to discuss if we’ve given a proposal and are told it doesn’t count?

For the sake of our members — and Southwest’s employees — we urge Southwest to abandon the games and get back on a path that will bring us to a deal. We delivered that path to the Company last November, and again in January.