Southwest Airlines and a union representing mechanics are closer to a new contract than they've been in years. After a week of mediation, the airline and union announced a major step toward ending a lengthy labor dispute that's lead to flight cancellations and lawsuits.
Southwest Airlines and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association said they're on their way to a new collective bargaining agreement, following six years of negotiation.
The agreement, in principle, would still have to be hammered out into a tentative agreement to be presented to the 2,400 mechanics represented by AMFA.
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According to a joint memo from Southwest Airlines and AMFA, if the new agreement is approved, mechanics would receive a 20 percent pay raise starting April 1, 3 percent base pay raises every August for the length of the five-year contract and a $160 million ratification bonus.
The deal comes after the FAA, earlier this month, warned the deteriorating relationship between mechanics and Southwest could impact safety. The airline has previously accused mechanics of grounding planes for minor maintenance issues and causing unnecessary delays and cancellations. Mechanics disputed the claim.
Aviation consultant Denny Kelly, who is not involved in the talks, said he believed the FAA's grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft last week helped motivate a breakthrough in the negotiations.
Southwest owns 34 Max 8 planes that are impacted by the FAA's order.
"Southwest can not afford to have mechanics that are unhappy, slowing down and not getting the airplanes fixed quickly, not getting the airplanes back on the line quickly," Kelly said. "To do that, they're going to have to have mechanics that are happy and that's what this is about."
NBC 5 reached out to the airline and union for comment.
In an email, AMFA National Director Bret Oestreich sent the following statement.
“We are proud to announce the AMFA and Southwest Airlines Negotiating Committees reached an Agreement in Principle (AIP) for the Aircraft Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) last night. After more than six years of negotiations, we finally have a deal we can recommend for the best interest of our 2,400 AMFA-SWA AMTs.
I commend both sides for their hard work and tireless negotiating this past week to achieve this AIP. We also appreciate the assistance of the National Mediation Board and Mediators in guiding us to this point in the process.
The Negotiating Committees are continuing to work together to finalize Tentative Agreement language, which will then be sent to the National Executive Council (NEC) for a final review, and then to the membership for their consideration and ratification vote. Further details regarding the ratification vote will be released when the TA language is completed.”
Southwest Airlines also sent a statement to NBC 5.
“Our Mechanics certainly deserve a new contract, and we believe this industry-leading Agreement in Principle addresses our Employees' interests. The parties were able to agree to a work rule change that allowed the Company to add compensation to the previous Tentative Agreement. I want to thank both negotiating teams for finding a solution that takes care of our People and protects the long-term success of our Company. I would also like to thank the National Mediation Board (NMB) for their expertise in helping us reach this agreement.”