Over the past weekend, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights. The mass flight cancellations sparked unsubstantiated claims from some social media users and politicians, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, that pilots and air traffic controllers had either walked off their jobs or called in sick to protest federal vaccination mandates.
“Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work!” Cruz tweeted Sunday. “Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers. #ThanksJoe.”
Southwest said that bad weather and air traffic control issues were to blame for the cancellations. Southwest, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association and Federal Aviation Administration have all denied there is any truth to the theories that employee pushback was to blame for the weekend’s issues. Both the company and union have not said how many of the airline’s employees missed work over the past weekend.
Notwithstanding theories about the massive flight cancellations, this October Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) filed a motion for temporary and preliminary injunctive relief against Southwest’s newly announced vaccination mandate in its ongoing lawsuit with Southwest Airlines, initially filed on Aug. 30, and then amended on October 6.
Neither Southwest Airlines or the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association know how many pilots remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, according to union president Casey Murray. The airline told employees last week that they would be required to get the vaccine by December 8, leaving less than two months to enforce the requirement.
The original complaint asserts the airlines are in violation of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), among other things, Sec. 6, which requires the parties to maintain “status quo” until a new agreement is reached. The lawsuit maintains that the carrier can not alter pay rates, rules, and working conditions until a new agreement is reached.
SWAPA alleges that “Most recently, on Oct. 4, 2021, Southwest Airlines unilaterally rolled out a new and non-negotiated COVID vaccine mandate for all employees, including SWAPA. The new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment, and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, 2021. Southwest Airlines’ additional new and unilateral modifications of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the RLA.”
“The new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021,” the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association’s lawyers wrote in their legal filing. “Southwest Airlines’ additional new and unilateral modification of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the [Railway Labor Act].”
The amended complaint has two counts. Count I, “Failure to Maintain the Status Quo During the Ongoing ‘Major’ Dispute,” and Count II, “Failure to Exert Every Reasonable Effort to Reach Agreement.”
In a statement on the union’s website, its leadership stipulates: “We want to be perfectly clear: SWAPA is not anti-vaccination, but we do believe that, under all circumstances, it is our role to represent the health and safety of our Pilots and bring their concerns to the company.”
A Southwest spokesperson told The Epoch Times that the firm “disagrees with SWAPA’s claims that any COVID-related changes over the past several months require negotiation” and “remains committed to [it’s] employees’ health and welfare and to working with SWAPA, and our other union partners, as we continue navigating the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.”