Did Southwest Steal $25,000 in Donations From a Mechanic They Fired?

This is a crazy labor relations story at Southwest Airlines.

A Southwest maintenance worker and union rep was fired for encouraging other Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association employees to take an illegal coordinated job action against the airline. A supervisor overheard him “encouraging his coworkers not to accept overtime assignments.”

However an arbitrator ordered that he be re-instated because the supervisor only heard part of the conversation, he may only have been answering questions initiated by other employees rather than proactively pushing those employees to refuse overtime. Or at least Southwest hadn’t proven otherwise. (In my view he deserves to be fired, even if the union contract says the threshold is higher.)

He’s due back pay minus funds he received during the time he wasn’t employed by Southwest. That means his income from a job with an aviation school credits against the wages he would have earned. And it includes $25,000 donated to him via a GoFundme page.

The union is livid that member donations are counting against the amount Southwest has to pay. They call it theft,

The Company would fire any of us at the slightest allegation of theft – but apparently Southwest has no issue attempting to steal the hard‐earned donations you made in support of Ken. 

Southwest is probably right, this is money in lieu of work and they only have to top him off to what he would have earned had he stayed on the job. However the optics here are terrible, Southwest’s obligation is reduced because of the voluntary donations from its employees. They’re probably better off dropping their position and covering the $25,000 because they’re handing the union an issue which will breed resentment amongst employees and potentially cost them far more.

That said, Southwest’s willingness to play hardball with underperforming employees and those who act against the airline’s culture on the job is one of the keys to their success. Their willingness to fire less than 1% of ground workers and flight attendants each year means that the rest of their team doesn’t have to pick up the slack from employees who don’t do their jobs or do it bitterly. It prevents the worst of any bunch from poisoning the culture.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. The system believe it or not is rigged against unionized airline employees trying to get their job back.

    A couple of examples. A Captain at a now defunct airline gets fired for failing a check ride because this is the third time he failed a training event. All well and good. But the contract says that form the failure to count he must take and fail two FAA check rides. He’s only had one. At the Arbitration a new VP from a totally different airline argues that at his old airline they considered a failure to achieve a recommendation to take the check ride (which your instructor must provide for you to do so) equivalent to a check ride failure. Bingo Bingo what does the arbitrator rule? That this made up interpretation of a well established CBA based on the CBA and bargaining history of a totally different airline applies and therefore our captain is fired.

    Second case United pilot some years ago is confronted by a chief pilot in the terminal for wearing his ALPA pin on his uniform which he is in fact allowed to do. Chief pilot orders the pilot to remove the pin immediately. The Pilot declines this request and is fired on the spot. It takes months for this to work its way through the grievance process to arbitration and of course the pilot prevails and is reinstated with full back pay. Problem is during the several months he was out his seniority would have held wide body Captain which in fact he had a bid in for. Need;ess to say this is a substantial difference in income. But the arbitrator rules that even though he had a bid in when he was illegally fired its speculative that he would have left it in and therefore he will only be paid for the seat and aircraft he was in at the time of termination.

    Point of all this is that yes it is theft. Theft by SWA who just got 25k richer thanks to other people and theft by the system that conceited such a miscarriage of justice. Essentially what happened here was that all those folks just donated their hard earned cash not to a friend but to Southwest. Absolutely despicable.

  2. Well I’ll chime in…..Southwest has no reason to count the funds, GOFundMe accounts are “donations/gifts” and are not considered “income” for tax reporting purposes, therefore, cannot be construed as income for purposes of reducing the SW payments due to him.
    I’m no lawyer, just a little tax experience, but I’d say the guy should DEFINITELY check with a CPA AND A LAWYER OR TWO to make sure.
    Not sure why you think he should have been fired? I think employees should be allowed to discuss working conditions and refusing non-mandatory overtime. If managers want a give/take relationship, they should GIVE too.

  3. @WilliamC,

    So I’m curious how you would feel if you donated money to someone who you thought had been wrongly fired only to see the company get to keep your hard earned cash when he gets his job back?

    The issue isn’t whether or not he got to keep the money. The issue is that a donation to him ultimately became a donation to Southwest. So in effect everyone who donated to him ended up donating to the airline.

  4. “That said, Southwest’s willingness to play hardball with underperforming employees and those who act against the airline’s culture on the job is one of the keys to their success. Their willingness to fire less than 1% of ground workers and flight attendants each year means that the rest of their team doesn’t have to pick up the slack from employees who don’t do their jobs or do it bitterly. It prevents the worst of any bunch from poisoning the culture.”

    You have that a little mixed up from my experience. There are a lot of unionized employees that should have been fired for various policy violations and ethical misconduct. The contracts are so strict as to the time frame to bring someone to a hearing that a lot of misconduct goes unpunished because it’s very difficult to fire someone. It actually breeds quite a bit of bitterness if you’re aware of it. It’s not an issue of refusing to fire, it’s a combination of inability to do so according to the stringent nature of the contract and giving no visibility into terminations to foster a culture of accountability.

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