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Southwest Pilots Avoid Arbitrating Seniority Rules

Thursday, July, 21, 2011

Southwest pilots avoided arbitrating the issue of how to create a seniority list this week.  At issue was the inclusion of pilots from AirTran Holding, Inc. into the current seniority list of pilots working for Southwest Airlines Co.  Southwest acquired AirTran in May. 


The seniority list is an essential document for how Southwest deals with the pilots in its workforce.  The list controls far more than who will lose a job first in the event of layoffs; it also determines salary, routes, and work schedules. 


Arbitrating Other Issues May be Required


The merger of Dallas-based Southwest with AirTran is far from completely finalized.  Many details remain to be ironed out.  The seniority list was the first major issue involving labor unions from the two organizations, but five more major issues remain to be settled.  Arbitration looks likely in at least some of them, according to Michael Van de Ven, the COO for Southwest.  He commended the parties, remarking that "the unions and company negotiating teams have accomplished a task that is rare in this industry" when they settled the matter without relying on outside arbitration.

Although this case involved two union groups coming to terms with one another and their corporate employer, arbitration can also be used on a smaller scale.  One example would be partnership disputes arbitration, commonly used in a small business setting.