DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines appears to be backing down from a demand to get credit for money donated to a fired employee’s GoFundMe account.
The change of heart comes after a union accused Southwest of abusing the generosity of the man’s co-workers.
Southwest fired Dallas mechanic Ken Hackett a year ago and accused him of helping organize a boycott of overtime assignments. In December, an arbitrator ordered the airline to reinstate Hackett with back pay minus any income he earned from other sources.
Southwest originally considered the $25,000 raised on GoFundMe to be outside income, reducing the amount it owed Hackett. Southwest earned $3.5 billion last year.
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman said Southwest changed its position in recent discussions, but Hackett’s lawyer says the airline has not mentioned that to him.
The case is the latest flare-up between Southwest and its labor unions. Once the model of management-labor relations in the airline industry, in recent years some workers have picketed to protest stalled negotiations over new contracts, and the company has fought its unions in court.
Hackett, who had been a shop steward for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, was fired days after Southwest sued the mechanics’ union over what it termed a boycott of overtime assignments that threatened to cause delayed and canceled flights. A supervisor reported overhearing Hackett calling co-workers and telling them not to answer calls from the airline when they were off-duty.
An arbitrator who presided over a two-day hearing ruled in Hackett’s favor, however, and ordered back pay from the time he was fired.
Hackett’s lawyer, Lucas Middlebrook, was surprised when Southwest tried to deduct the GoFundMe money from the man’s award.
“It’s atrocious,” Middlebrook said. “They wanted a head on a stake. They wanted to send a message to other mechanics, ‘Be careful or you could be next.'”
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King that late last week the airline made a settlement offer that would not count the GoFundMe money against Hackett’s back pay. If the two sides can’t agree, Southwest will let the arbitrator decide the issue, she said.