Southwest Airlines pilots made a historic vote to authorize a strike after a holiday flight meltdown grounded more than 16,000 planes

Southwest Airlines The pilots of Co. will vote on whether to allow their union to strike, frustrated by a lack of progress in talks that began three years ago and scheduling issues that contributed to 16,700 flight cancellations last month.

This is the first time Southwest aviators have voted on such a measure, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said in a message to members Wednesday.

The vote, which begins May 1, will not allow pilots to walk off the job. It is one of a series of steps required under federal law governing airline-labor relations involving the National Mediation Board and could eventually lead to a strike.

“A contract is needed now more than ever to address our failing operations, reduce fatigue affecting the safety of our operations and to prevent the hemorrhaging of pilots leaving Southwest for better working conditions in always increasing numbers,” Casey Murray, president of the union, said in the message.

All four of the country’s largest airlines work on reaching new pilot labor agreements after the pandemic negotiations stalled, and updated contracts are expected to be expensive. Industry-wide talks have been particularly tense as unions seek increased compensation and more flexible work schedules, and pilots regularly picket outside airports and investor meeting sites in company.

Southwest said Wednesday that the potential vote will not affect its operations and is not related to contract negotiations. The sides are scheduled to resume mediation on January 24.

“We will continue to follow the process outlined in the Railway Labor Act and work, under the assistance of the National Mediation Board, towards reaching an agreement that will reward our pilots and keep them competitive in the industry,” said the Southwest in a statement.

Costs Involved

The Dallas-based carrier told investors last month that it accounted for all open labor contracts, including pilots, in its cost guidance for 2023.

Leaders of Delta Air Lines Inc pilots union met this week to decide whether to approve a tentative contract and send it for a membership vote. That agreement would provide at least a 34% cumulative pay increase for aviators over four years. Delta’s Air Lines Pilots Association unit said it will schedule briefings for members on the terms of the agreement before any final vote takes place.

Pilot union leaders of American Airlines Group Inc. in November rejected a proposed contract that would have raised wages by 19% over two years and United Airlines Holdings Inc. pilots. overwhelmingly voted down a new labor agreement, saying it lacked the “industry-leading contract” they deserved.

Shares of Southwest fell 2.2% at 11:58 am in New York.

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