Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

I adore an uplifting story.

It resuscitates my faith in the vestiges of human goodness.

I couldn't help but offer a smile, therefore, when I heard that everything at Southwest Airlines was really quite dandy.

During seemingly every San Francisco Giants broadcast, I'm confronted with the happy faces of the airline telling me how there's real love all around.

And only last week, I wrote about how the airline's CEO, Gary Kelly, had intimated that if Southwest gets compensation from Boeing after the 737 MAX debacle, it wants to share it with employees.

Which is why I was rendered momentarily insensate on reading this headline last week: No Love: Southwest Airlines Refuses to Stop Fighting Its Expert Mechanics in Court Even After Contract.

Here was the Southwest mechanics' union--the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association--talking to the trendily influential medium of Medium to portray a different Southwest from the one we're sold.

This was most odd.

You see, in March, the airline and its mechanics rose as one from the negotiating table and saluted their renewed mutual bond.

After seven years of sometimes nasty bargaining, the mechanics had secured a 20 percent raise and $160 million of back pay.

In May, when the deal was officially announced, Southwest seemed mutedly relieved. The airline declared: 

This new contract benefits all parties as it takes care of our People and preserves the long-term health of Southwest Airlines.

What on earth happened since?

The mechanics describe the current situation as a touch infected: 

The contract didn't bring peace between our union and the company. Far from it. There were three lawsuits still pending that needed to be resolved. During bargaining, both sides expressed to each other and the courts their expectation that resolution of collective bargaining would resolve this litigation. Yet when the company agreed on a new contract, the members ratified it, and the company signed the contract, it backtracked and refused to end the litigation.

The airline is still suing its mechanics?

The mechanics say the airline is trying to squeeze $20 million from previous legal claims of alleged wrongdoing.

Behind it, they say, are much darker intentions: 

Southwest's ill-fated attempt to deunionize its workforce has begun.

Naturally, I asked Southwest for its thoughts on these troubling accusations.

An airline spokeswoman told me: 

We are pleased that in March we were able to reach an agreement that delivered well-deserved pay increases to our mechanics. We are not providing details on the pending litigation with AMFA, but are focused on preventing these types of customer disruptions from happening in the future. 

I do try to read between the lines of corporate statements. There's usually so much space.

It's hard not to get the impression that the airline still thinks the union will attempt to affect operations if it doesn't get its way on everything.

Unions can, at times, have a considerable flair for the dramatic.

Airlines, in turn, tend not to adore unions. Many look longingly toward Delta, which aggressively--and sometimes nastily--fights the idea of unionization among many of its employees.

Yet this isn't a fine image for Southwest to project. 

After all, the airline is supposed to be the reasonable, friendly, people's airline, the one whose employees have smiles congenitally embedded in their souls.

It's American Airlines that's supposed to have unpleasant relations with its employees--and especially its mechanics--right? 

Published on: Sep 22, 2019
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