By Andrea Romano
February 25, 2019
Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After a slew of cancellations and delays over the past week, Southwest Airlines is pointing the finger at a number of union mechanics.

The airline suspects a small group of about 100 mechanics of deliberately orchestrating an effort to effectively slow operations, according to CBS News.

An investigation by Southwest reveals that more than 60 Southwest 737s were "needlessly" taken out of service for “unscheduled maintenance,” CBS News reported. The average daily UAD, or unscheduled aircraft downtime (hours a scheduled aircraft is removed from its flight to perform unscheduled maintenance), have skyrocketed in several locations, including a jump from around 10 clocked hours to 60 hours per day in Orlando and from around 18 hours to 127 hours in Houston.

The company has gone directly to the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) following its investigation, in order to stop the surge of needless unscheduled maintenance, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Southwest executive vice president and chief legal and regulatory officer Mark Shaw wrote in a letter to the AMFA, “This concentration of [an increase in UAD hours] in a discernible pattern makes clear that the source of the increase… is an unlawful concerted activity.”

However, AMFA national director Bret Oestreich denied all accusations in a statement to members, saying, “Members are unequivocally instructed to refrain from any collective actions to withhold their services from the company, or to diminish their services, or to disrupt operations for illegal reasons. Doing your job as a licensed Technician is not illegal.”

As contract negotiations are scheduled for March, the latest accusations could cast a dark shadow on both the union and Southwest if an amicable agreement is not met.

It seems, though, that Southwest chief executive officer Gary Kelly is willing to extend an olive branch.

“We suddenly find ourselves in a period of tension and turmoil,” Kelly said in a statement to employees. “Our Mechanics are extraordinary. I am proud of them, and they have been especially heroic in getting aircraft returned to service over the last two weeks. They deserve all of our thanks. They also deserve a new labor contract.”

Reps for AMFA claim the airline is using this investigation to divert attention from real safety issues, according to the Dallas Morning News. Some of Southwest’s aircraft have made headlines for mechanical issues in the last few months, including a flight that ended with a few passengers with bleeding ears due to malfunctioning cabin pressure. The airline is also in the midst of testing flights to Hawaii as part of its expansion efforts.