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Southwest pilots prepare for strike that could impact holiday travel

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Southwest pilots are organizing regional strike centers that could cause thousands of planes to be grounded during one of the busiest travel times of the season.

Organizers said it could happen if their demands are not met.

Southwest pilots like Anthony Mulhare said their union has been negotiating their contract for more than three years.

“Our contract that we work under with Southwest expired the 1st of September 2020, 3 and a half years ago,” Mulhare said.

That’s how long it’s been since the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association has been negotiating a new contract for pilots with Southwest, one that includes better benefits for pilots.

“It’s more than just compensation, it has a lot to do with our disability. We’re the only union that pays for its pilots disability as opposed to the company, which is the industry standard,” Mulhare said.

Mulhare said other major airlines have all reached agreements within the past 24 months, but Southwest is behind, which not only impacts the quality of life for current pilots, but the company’s ability to attract new talent.

This week, union members made a concrete step to set up a second strike center for pilots. Mulhare said this will serve as a regional meeting spot for pilots in the event they start picketing, which is a very strong possibility.

“We opened one in Dallas about two weeks ago, we’ll eventually open one in every pilot domicile. There are 11 domiciles at Southwest throughout the system with Chicago, in Phoenix being the next ones we would open. That looks like a shutdown of all service at Southwest Airlines, so no pilot would do any work for the company,” Mulhare said.

He said it could happen before the month ends.

“At the soonest, we’re looking at about the 30th of December, 1st of January time frame,” Mulhare said.

This will only happen if the National Mediation Board releases the pilots by declaring an impasse in the negotiations.

That means around New Year’s, during one of the busiest travel times, all Southwest flights could be grounded as long as it takes for the new contracts to be finalized.

This catastrophe would be similar to the electrical situation Southwest faced last year with thousands of passengers being stranded, which means chaos not only for the employees of the Southwest Airline industry, but for their travelers as well.

“Unfortunately there’s a very real possibility that their travel with Southwest Airlines could be impacted. Our pilots are the most productive pilots in the industry. We fly the most takeoffs and landings every day of any pilot in the United States. It’s time for those pilots to be rewarded for the work that they do. It’s time to land this contract deal, to get this done,” Mulhare said.

If the pilots do strike, we could see them picketing outside of the airport at BWI as well as other airports around the country and until an agreement is met.

Officials with Southwest responded saying its negotiations continue this week and they’ll keep working with the assistance of the National Mediation Board to reach an agreement that rewards pilots and places them competitively in the industry.

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