Southwest Airlines CEO Says He Won’t Be Leaving Despite Four Union Votes Of “No Confidence”

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Days after the Southwest Airlines pilots union — and three other airline employee unions — took a vote of no confidence and called for the resignation of CEO Gary Kelly, blaming the head honcho for a massive technical glitch that canceled 700 flights and stranded thousands of passengers last week, the man in charge says he isn’t going anywhere. 

In an internal company video message, reported by the Chicago Business Journal, Kelly told employees on Wednesday that he won’t leave the company over the outage, and expressed his displeasure with the unions’ actions.

The unions calling for Kelly’s exit represent 38,000 employees — pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and ground operations — accounting for around 80% of Southwest’s workforce. The CEO says the no confidence votes are a “personal attack on me, Mike Van de Ven (Southwest Chief Operating Officer), our culture, and our company.”

The four unions issued a statement [PDF] on their decision on Tuesday, noting that “a majority of Southwest believe that their airline has been moving in an unhealthy and unsustainable direction, and they demand a course correction.”

The groups claim that Kelly and Van de Ven have failed to recognize and adequately fix the operational failures at the airline, including putting profit above “critically needed” technological upgrades.

Because of this, the groups say if Kelly and Van de Ven had put more emphasis on the carriers’ technology instead of cost cutting, the glitch last week likely would have been prevented.

It’s important to note that three of the unions — those representing pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics — are currently in contract negotiations with the airline.

For his part, Kelly says he believes the votes are a move by the unions to assist in negotiations.

“Their actions are part of a labor negotiations playbook, and the blaming, name-calling and the finger pointing behavior — while predictable — are not the way we do things at Southwest Airlines,” Kelly said of the pilot union’s vote. “Worse, many of the allegations are simply uninformed or intentionally false. Labor negotiations should not be rationalized as a license for bad behavior.”

Kelly went on to reiterate that he doesn’t plan to leave the company despite growing calls to do so.

“I’m not going anywhere and neither is Mike. We have important work to do, and important issues to address, and we are not distracted by these games,” he said.

Kelly’s message was met with concern from the unions, with Jon Weaks, president of the pilots union, Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association, telling the Chicago Business Journal that the employees “love this airline, and we are just trying to point out where we believe the company needs to improve.”

Louie Key, national director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association that represents Southwest mechanics, echoed those sentiments and reiterated that the decision was tied to the airline’s recent technology issues, not a negotiation.

“The technology failure was the final straw for our members,” he tells the Business Journal. “The current leadership has dragged out our contract negotiations for nearly four years, eroded the company culture that employees hold dear, and continued to put band-aids on its operations systems rather than invest in company upgrades.”

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly slams pilots as ‘no confidence’ vote spreads to four labor groups [Chicago Business Journal]

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