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August 28, 2014

Federal mediator assigned to contract talks between Southwest and its ground workers union

For the first time ever, a federal mediator will be trying to help Southwest Airlines and its ground workers union to hammer out a new contract.

Earlier this week, the International Association of Machinists asked the National Mediation Board to step in to the contract talks between the passenger service and reservations agents union and Southwest as the parties have not reached a new agreement after two years of negotiations.

IAM District 142 president Tom Higgenbotham said on Thursday that the union was notified by the NMB that Victoria Gray has ben assigned to their case.

"We expect in the not-to-distant future that the mediator will set up meetings for us," Higgenbotham said. 

He added that the union had filed for mediation only once before but were able to work out a new contract before the mediator was assigned. The IAM represents about 6,000 employees at Southwest.

In a statement, Southwest said the carrier was disappointed with the union's request for a mediator to join the talks.

"We go into this request knowing that our Employees already have an industry leading contract that provides the best wages, benefits and work rules in the industry," the company said. "We are committed to negotiating in good faith and honoring our deep commitment to the People of Southwest."

Keep reading for the full statement from Southwest and the for full news release from IAM requesting mediation.

-Andrea Ahles

Southwest statement on mediation

While we will certainly honor the IAMs desire to request national mediation assistance, we are shocked and disappointed by this sudden request. The Company has only presented an initial proposal on economics to IAM, to which the Union never formally responded. That economic proposal included performance bonuses, potential incentives to boost Employee earning power, and an increase in fixed wage rates. We go into this request knowing that our Employees already have an industry leading contract that provides the best wages, benefits and work rules in the industry. We also know that we have provided complete job security for our Employees during our 43-year history and there is no other IAM covered work group that can claim that track record.  Borrowing IAM’s phrase from their news release, Southwest is only hell-bent on providing our People a stable work environment and the same caring attitude that we show every Southwest Customer. We are committed to negotiating in good faith and honoring our deep commitment to the People of Southwest. Moreover, it is a top Southwest priority to reach a new contract as soon as possible with IAM that provides flexibility, an industry-leading compensation package and continued job security for all Employees. We look forward to a productive mediation process.

IAM District 142 news release

After more than two years of direct talks with Southwest Airlines, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) today announced it filed for mediation with the National Mediation Board (NMB), the federal agency that oversees contract negotiations in the airline industry.

"Southwest earned nearly a billion dollars last year, is on pace to report a larger profit for this year, has the most productive workforce in the airline industry and yet refuses to offer any real improvements," said IAM District 142 President Tom Higginbotham. "Management is hell-bent to move to a risky variable compensation system as opposed to offering guaranteed wage increases. It’s clear this is a numbers oriented airline instead of a people oriented airline."

Coupled with Southwest’s deteriorating labor relations, the carrier’s operational performance has plummeted: The carrier has among the worst on-time arrival rate in the airline industry, it ranks among the bottom in mishandled baggage and hovers at the top of the airline industry in denied boardings.

"Southwest has merged its way to super-profits and is doing everything it can to stonewall its employees from sharing fairly in the success they’ve worked so hard to create," continued Higginbotham. "This is greed, pure and simple and the IAM will not stand for it."

If the IAM’s application for federal mediation is granted by the NMB, the agency then begins the process of attempting to resolve the differences between the parties via mediated discussions. If no agreement can be reached through mediation, the Railway Labor Act (RLA)—the federal law that governs collective bargaining in the airline industry—has several mechanisms to bring both sides together, including arbitration and a possible strike.

The IAM represents approximately 6,000 passenger service and reservation agents at the carrier and has never before had to utilize the NMB’s mediation services to achieve an agreement with Southwest.

The IAM represents over 100,000 workers in the airline and railroad sectors and is the largest transportation union in North America.

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