With Hawaii on the Horizon, Focus Shifts To Contract Negotiations

Southwest’s proposed service to Hawaii is projected to account for almost half of the carrier’s 2019 growth. It would seem natural that this growth would lead to benefits for their employees. A rising tide lifts all… planes, right? But at Southwest, unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

The Aircraft Maintenance Technicians have been in contract negotiations with Southwest for more than six and a half years. During this time the technicians’ wages and benefits have been frozen: no raises, no bonuses, no updated benefits, and certainly no mutual agreement for how the new flights that require ETOPS certification will be handled.

What’s ETOPS? It’s a certification required by the FAA for aircrafts to hold if they are more than 60 minutes flying time from the nearest airport suitable for an emergency landing.

Clearly, this is vital to obtain in order for the Southwest Hawaii expansion to move forward. And, the full cooperation of their technicians is needed to receive it since there are new procedures and regulations to be learned.

So, is Southwest doing everything they can to quell the tension with the technicians?

In short, no. Actually, Southwest should be focused to maintain or increase their aircraft maintenance standards, not lowering their standards by planning to use non-union vendor workers to and from Hawaii. Since this is a new route for the carrier, they don’t currently staff their own unionized Aircraft Maintenance Technicians in Hawaii. Rather than coming to an amenable agreement with their union technicians, Southwest plans to continue doing whatever is best for their bottom line.

We’ve seen this with the whistleblower complaints brought to the FAA by Southwest Aircraft Maintenance Technicians — technicians punished for finding faults outside of their scope of work — and the staggering disconnect in Southwest’s public messaging and the reality their employees face.

With the government shutdown extending longer than expected, the Hawaii timeline has once again been delayed. While certainly frustrating for the airline, it could serve as an opportunity to get a few things right.

For starters, a suitable contract for their technicians. The Aircraft Maintenance Technicians as represented by AMFA and Southwest management will be back at the negotiation table in late January. The technicians are still asking for the same thing: fair terms and conditions of employment commensurate with their value to the company.

With the prospect of service to Hawaii allegedly closer than ever, will Southwest finally be ready to listen? We don’t know. But, at the very least, we know it is likely the public will feel much more assured on new long-haul flights knowing the technicians working on it are respected and fairly compensated.