Southwest Airlines pilots held informational picketing at Hartsfield-Jackson International and several other airports across the country Thursday morning, as they push for a new contract.
Dozens of pilots lined up along the Terminal North curbside at the Atlanta airport’s domestic terminal, holding signs that read “Ready to strike.” Southwest pilots also held demonstrations at airports in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago.
Southwest pilots are not on strike, but voted in May to authorize a strike if contract talks fail and they are legally permitted to walk off the job. There are several hurdles that would have to be met before a strike would be allowed, including being released by the National Mediation Board from mediated talks and a 30-day cooling off period.
Dallas-based Southwest said it does not anticipate any disruption to its service due to the demonstration by off-duty pilots. Southwest is the second-largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson, behind Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines.
“Our contract negotiations continue” towards an agreement that rewards pilots “and places them competitively in the industry,” Southwest said in a written statement. The company said it respects the rights of employees to express their opinions.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association has been in contract negotiations with Southwest since 2020, and has been pushing for raises and other improvements as Delta and other major carriers have struck new pilot labor deals this year with big pay raises.
Southwest, which has an all-Boeing 737 fleet without larger international jets that prompt more pay to fly, has lost hundreds of pilots to other airlines that have boosted pay, according to the union.
Chip Hancock, an Atlanta-based Southwest pilot and chair of the union’s government affairs committee, said there are about 600 Southwest pilots based in Atlanta and about 170 were rotating in groups to picket. Thursday was the first time Southwest pilots have picketed in Atlanta, according to Hancock.
“We want a contract that our pilots are worthy of and that they deserve,” Hancock said.
The contract the union is negotiating is also aimed at improving the airline’s efficiency with how it schedules pilots, he said. Southwest’s reputation took a hit during a meltdown in the middle of the busy holiday travel season last year, and the airline vowed to improve crew scheduling systems and other aspects of its operation.
“Southwest — one of our competitive advantages to running an efficient airline,” Hancock said. “And that’s something quite frankly, that the airline has struggled with the last couple of years, that we hope to rectify in this contract.”