February 14, 2020
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
United States Senate
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Re: DOT Office of Inspector General Report on Southwest Airlines; Harassment of Southwest’s LAX Aircraft Mechanics
Dear Senator Feinstein:
On behalf of the thousands of aircraft mechanics working for Southwest Airlines, I want to convey our appreciation for your February 13, 2020, letter to Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. As the National Director of Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) - the only craft specific aircraft mechanic union representing the Aviation Maintenance Technicians (AMT) of Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, and Southwest Airlines, we share your concern regarding the recent report of the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) detailing the numerous safety violations at Southwest Airlines.
Due to your interest in the DOT OIG identified safety lapses, I want to alert you to a particularly dire situation facing AMTs working at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In two recent whistleblower investigations, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concluded that Southwest Airlines engaged in coercive management practices over the maintenance operations. As you will read below, these practices lend additional credibility to the deteriorating culture of safety that will ultimately impact the safety of the traveling public.
Notwithstanding the Inspector General’s finding that the FAA’s oversight of Southwest safety compliance has been lax, back-to-back agency reports have confirmed that coercive management practices within Southwest’s maintenance operations present a threat to the traveling public.
In a 2017 investigation of the LAX maintenance operations, the FAA concluded:
[A]ll of the mechanics interviewed except two felt pressured and under scrutiny as to whether they were either doing their job correctly or if they were finding too many things wrong with the aircraft…
Mechanics are told, "Dallas is watching us’ don’t make us look bad with delays."
(Attachment A at 4 -- FAA Report of Investigation –Whistleblower Complaint EWB17634, dated November 16, 2017).
FAA investigators described an environment characterized by: "[F]ear of threats or reprisal. This ultimately leads to a degraded level of safety…." (Id. at 5). Notwithstanding this damning report, a subsequent investigation by the FAA confirmed that the situation has continued to deteriorate.
In a February 2019 report, the FAA concluded that Southwest Airlines pressured AMTs to shortcut maintenance procedures and refrain from submitting reports of aircraft damage that might result in a maintenance delay. As the FAA stated:
It was observed, at the SWA LAX maintenance base, there is the absence of a "Just Safety Culture" within the management. Safety Promotion, a key part of an effective SMS seems to be deficient. There seems to be a lack of an environment of trust, effective communication and the willingness for employees to share mistakes, concerns or failures without the fear of threats or reprisal. This ultimately leads to a degraded level of safety that the SMS is trying to maintain at the highest possible level.
The Investigation Team. along with the AFB-470B Branch Manager, held a meeting with the SWAA Certificate Management Office (CMO) management team to discuss the findings of this investigation. The SWAA principal inspectors understand the nature of the deficiencies and have initiated compliance action documented on PTRS record IDSW2920190 1058 to track the corrective action.
(Attachment B at 5 – FAA Report of Investigation – EWB 18644 dated February 21, 2019).
Notwithstanding the corrective action prescribed by the FAA, Southwest Airlines Station Manager Michael Baird testified that no one at Southwest Airlines spoke to him about the FAA’s investigation or the specific FAA finding of coercion. (Attachment C -Baird Dep. at 49-50). Manager Baird was never told of the FAA’s finding that, at the LAX maintenance operation, there was an absence of Just Safety culture. (Id. at 70-71). Manager Baird testified that, in response to the complaints of LAX AMTs, he was instructed by Western Region Director David Fry to continue to be a "happy go lucky guy." (Baird Dep. at 56). Despite the FAA’s finding of illegal coercive conduct at LAX, Southwest Airlines never asked Baird to modify his conduct. (Id. at 56-57). Consequently, he has not. (Id.).
It is not just that there is little hope of remediation, but that the situation may soon become worse. Southwest Airlines is currently litigating against the AMFA-represented Southwest AMTs to obtain an injunction that would effectively suppress maintenance write-ups. Southwest Airlines initiated the lawsuit during a contentious collective bargaining process. Despite the fact AMFA and Southwest Airlines reached an agreement recently, Southwest Airlines elected to continue its litigation. With respect to this issue as well, the DOT OIG Report references the FAA’s concern regarding the litigation’s impact on public safety.
Again, thank you for your attention to the DOT OIG report and its findings. Your constituents working in Southwest’s LAX operations would appreciate any further action you might take that would allow them to fulfill their obligations inherent in their FAA-issued Airframe & Powerplant licenses free of the coercive practices identified by the FAA.
cc: Senator Feinstein – Los Angeles Office
11111 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 915
Los Angeles, CA 90025