In Lawsuit, Southwest Airlines Accuses Mechanics Union of Grounding Planes

The airlines and the mechanics union have been in contract negotiations for six years

Southwest Airlines on Thursday sued its mechanics union, accusing it of orchestrating a scheme to ground planes unnecessarily and asking a federal judge to intervene.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Dallas against Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, or AMFA, escalates the ongoing dispute between the airline and the union. The two have been in contract negotiations for more than six years.

"Drawing from the playbook of other unions, AMFA has attempted to shield its unlawful activity behind an empirically impossible claim that the disruption of Southwest's operations merely reflects an increased focus on Southwest's mechanics on 'safety,'" the lawsuit said. "In fact, AMFA itself continues to use the code language 'safety,' 'compliance,' and 'by the book' to hide the nature of its true behavior."

The lawsuit claims if a judge does not order the union to stop, more flights will be delayed or canceled.

Southwest accused its mechanics of deliberately grounding planes “under the guise of safety” after contract talks broke down Feb. 12.

The airline said an unusual number of write-ups began the following day in Houston, Las Vegas, Orlando and Phoenix and then spread to other cities.

"Southwest began experiencing an uptick on cosmetic and other minor maintenance write-ups,” the airline said. “It quickly became clear as these unusual write-ups spread across Southwest's stations that something coordinated was beginning to occur."

Southwest said on a typical day 14 of its aircraft are out of service but that in the past few weeks, it's been as high as 62.

Representatives for the union did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Southwest's vice president of labor relations Russell McCrady released a statement late Thursday.

"Today's action does not alter our goal of reaching an agreement that benefits our hardworking maintenance employees nor does it change the company's unwavering commitment to safety. Southwest is -- hands down -- one of the best companies in the world to work for and we will not stray from our focus on rewarding our mechanics, while we work to shield our employees and customers from unnecessary disruptions within the operation."

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