Southwest Airlines sues mechanics' union over grounded planes

Robert Alexander | Archive Photos | Getty Images
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet takes off from San Antonio International Airport in Texas.

Southwest Airlines on Thursday alleged in a lawsuit that its mechanics' union is encouraging the workers to purposefully write up minor maintenance issues in order keep jets out of service to gain leverage in contract talks.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Dallas, intensified the feud between the low-cost airline and its mechanics. Southwest has canceled hundreds of flights this month as the number of out-of-service jets more than doubled. The two have been in contract negotiations for more than six years.

The lawsuit against the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association called the action illegal and said that it would cause "irreparable injury" to Southwest and the public if it wasn't stopped.

Southwest normally plans to have about 20 planes out of service each day, a spokesman said. The lawsuit said it had 51 planes out of service on Wednesday and 45 on Tuesday.

The AMFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has recently denied Southwest's allegations after the airline said it would investigate the issue.

"No matter how small an issue we may find with an aircraft, we have an obligation mandated by operation of our [Federal Aviation Administration] issued licenses to repair it and make the aircraft airworthy," the union's national director Bret Oestreich said last week. "It is our hope that the Southwest management will join this commitment to restoring our safety culture and looking at this transition not as an 'operational emergency' but rather the beginning of a new normal."

The mechanics rejected a new contract in September after the proposed pay increase came up short of what they had sought.

"Today's action does not alter our goal of reaching an agreement that benefits our hardworking Maintenance Employees nor does it change the Company's unwavering commitment to Safety," Russell McCrady vice president of labor relations at Southwest said in a statement. "Southwest is — hands down — one of the best companies in the world to work for and we will not stray from our focus on rewarding our mechanics, while we work to shield our employees and customers from unnecessary disruptions within the operation."

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