Southwest pilots’ union lays groundwork for potential strike with labor talks at an impasse

A Southwest Airlines Co. plane takes off as representatives and pilots from the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association (SWAPA) demonstrate outside Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, May 18, 2016.

Daniel Acker / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Southwest Airlines pilots’ union said Thursday it sought to be released from federal mediation for a new labor contract, laying the groundwork for a potential strike as talks with the carrier haven’t yet yielded an agreement.

“Regrettably, I must inform you that SWAPA and Southwest have been unable to meaningfully resolve numerous important, outstanding issues, and that further mediation will likely not result in any additional agreements between the parties,” Jody R. Reven, the negotiating committee’s chairman wrote to the National Mediation Board on Thursday, according to a letter seen by CNBC.

The airline and union have been in contract talks for more than three years and negotiations have been tense. The Dallas-based carrier’s pilots voted to authorize the union to call a possible strike last month, a poll that the union called on the heels of a holiday meltdown at the end of last year.

The union said Southwest has refused to engage “in substantive discussions or offer ratifiable proposals” on issues like better pay, work rules, quality-of-life improvements and fatigue mitigation, according to a letter the union sent to the National Mediation Board.

Southwest didn’t immediately comment.

Pilot strikes in the U.S. are extremely rare, and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association’s request does not mean that one is imminent because of procedures in U.S. labor law. The last major U.S. passenger airline strike in the country was at Spirit Airlines in 2010.

There are several so-called “cooling off” periods should the National Labor Board declare an impasse between Southwest and its pilots’ union. Those last 30 days apiece, giving time for a potential agreement.

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