Southwest Grounds Hundreds Of Flights Amid Union Fight

NEW YORK – Southwest Airlines saw an unusual spike in maintenance issues on its aircraft “just days after our last negotiations session” with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).

Southwest first noticed maintenance delays Feb. 12 concentrated in four locations, “despite no change in our maintenance programs, no changes in leadership, and no changes in our policies and procedures,” Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said in a statement. The company enacted emergency work protocols Friday to deal with the maintenance spike.

The maintenance problems have continued. Southwest canceled roughly 440 flights, more than 10 percent of its schedule, by mid-afternoon Wednesday because of severe weather and a relatively “high number” of maintenance issues. On Tuesday, the airline canceled roughly 200 flights before a snowstorm in the Eastern U.S. became a factor, the Associated Press reports.

“AMFA has a history of work disruptions,” Van de Ven said, implying that the union, which represents around 2,400 Southwest mechanics, may be purposefully impacting flight maintenance to get a stronger bargaining position on the company.

The AMFA accused the airline of “scapegoating” its mechanics and warned that the conflict may impact the safety of future Southwest flights, according to a Medium post by the union.

Recently heightened Federal Aviation Administration oversight into airline mechanical issues has caused the surge in grounded flights, according to the union. The added oversight has taken pressure off mechanics from corporate leadership so mechanics are flagging previously ignored mechanical issues.

“The truth is, this is not an ’emergency,’ but the new normal,” the AMFA post said. “Southwest Airlines needs to encourage this renaissance of its safety culture, even if it is being catalyzed by outside forces, and accept the increased maintenance as the standard practice it should organize around and be prepared to accommodate.”

Southwest currently has two ongoing lawsuits filed against the union and may file another depending on the outcome of an internal investigation into the recent maintenance issues.

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