Southwest Airlines acaba de tomar una decisión difícil. ¿Es arriesgado o inteligente?

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Esta es una historia sobre una decisión difícil en Southwest Airlines y en qué se diferencia del camino que han tomado American Airlines y United Airlines.

También se trata de lo que su empresa puede aprender de todo esto.

Tanto United Airlines como American Airlines advirtieron el verano pasado que si esa fecha hubiera pasado sin una ampliación de la ayuda federal a las aerolíneas que el gobierno aprobó en abril, estarían sacando a miles de trabajadores a partir del 1 de octubre.

La fecha límite para el 1 de octubre ha expirado. El estímulo no lo hizo. La cuestión de si habrá más ayudas estatales a las aerolíneas está muy abierta.

Ahora podría respaldar la idea de otro paquete de ayuda aérea y no pudo.

En Southwest, que perdió 17 millones de dólares todos los días durante el tercer trimestre y cuyos ingresos cayeron un 70 por ciento, el director ejecutivo Gary Kelly hizo algo diferente.

Esta semana Kelly grabó un video para los empleados diciendo que Southwest continuará con su racha de despidos o vacaciones a lo largo de su historia corporativa al menos hasta fin de año.

Después de eso, aunque Kelly, por supuesto, agradecería la ayuda federal, dijo que ya no contaba con el gobierno. En cambio, quiere que el suroeste se corte sus propias esquinas.

Empieza por sí mismo: Kelly dice que estará sin salario hasta fines de 2021 y que otros ejecutivos recibirán un recorte salarial del 20 por ciento durante ese tiempo.

Otros trabajadores no sindicalizados verán un recorte salarial del 10 por ciento a partir del 1 de enero.

Kelly prometió que no habría despidos para los trabajadores no sindicalizados para fines de 2021, y sus salarios se recuperarán, lo que significa que recuperarán el recorte salarial del 10 por ciento después de un año.

Ahora viene el quid del asunto: Kelly dijo que también pediría a los sindicatos que compensaran los recortes salariales.

«Mi objetivo era y no es pasar los días de vacaciones», dijo Kelly en el video. «Si no podemos ponernos de acuerdo rápidamente sobre concesiones razonables, este debe ser el último recurso».

Hacer ese anuncio y básicamente poner el balón en el patio de los sindicatos es una movida interesante. Ambos sindicatos, que representan a los pilotos y azafatas de Southwest Airlines, vertieron agua fría sobre la idea de recortes voluntarios.

El sindicato de auxiliares de vuelo me envió un comunicado diciendo que habían «dejado claro a la empresa en discusiones anteriores que nuestros miembros no están interesados ​​en hacer concesiones en un contrato que ha tardado décadas en mantener».

Y el sindicato que representa a los pilotos dijo El periodico de Wall Street Había acordado mantener conversaciones con la compañía, pero dijo a los miembros en una carta: «El consentimiento para las discusiones es muy diferente del consentimiento para las concesiones».

¿Qué es lo siguiente? Creo que probablemente sea una de tres cosas.

Primero, si los sindicatos aprueban los recortes, no habrá despidos y Kelly mantendrá en marcha la serie Southwest.

En segundo lugar, si los sindicatos no están de acuerdo con los recortes, Kelly se va de vacaciones, pero él es básicamente responsable de las pérdidas de los sindicatos.

Por último, si Washington de alguna manera viene al rescate con un paquete de estímulo, independientemente de lo que hagan los sindicatos, Kelly volverá a salir del apuro, ya que todo el asunto será polémico, al menos por el momento.

«Si tenemos la suerte de que el gobierno federal actúe y extienda el PSP hasta el próximo marzo como se propuso», dijo, «entonces todos estos esfuerzos de reducción de salarios serán suspendidos o revertidos. Para hacerlo de nuevo cuando el PSP». extendido, detendremos estos esfuerzos de reducción de salarios. «

Desde que comenzó la pandemia, me he preguntado cuál es la forma más inteligente para las empresas que atraviesan tiempos difíciles temporalmente: reducir el personal o pedir a todos que reduzcan los salarios para salvar puestos de trabajo.

Creo que es una de las decisiones más difíciles que debe tomar el propietario de un negocio, especialmente ahora.

Altruistamente, los recortes salariales parecen ser los mejores, pero eso va en contra del consejo que el profesor de Harvard Business School Christopher Stanton y algunos de sus colegas dieron hace años.

Dicen que despidieron a la gente en lugar de recortar salarios; De lo contrario, corre el riesgo de que sus mejores empleados sigan adelante y tenga una fuerza laboral desmoralizada que se queda porque no pueden obtener mejores ofertas en otros lugares.

Estos, por supuesto, no son tiempos normales. Entonces, si estas son las reglas normales, es posible que no se apliquen.

Le pedí a Southwest más comentarios y dije que estaba tentado de describir toda la estrategia de Kelly como inteligente y dura. Un portavoz del suroeste, Chris Mainz, no estuvo de acuerdo.

«Yo diría que esto es lo contrario de Hardball y que se trata de ser tan justo y transparente como un gerente podría hacer con los empleados», escribió Mainz. «Se trata de salvar puestos de trabajo, y Gary tiene un plan para hacerlo».

Añadió: «Nuestro negocio está en cuidados intensivos y nuestro director ejecutivo está haciendo todo lo posible para salvar y navegar los trabajos».

Por supuesto, tal vez puedas ser justo, transparente, inteligente y duro al mismo tiempo. Y tal vez esa sea una definición de liderazgo.

Las opiniones expresadas aquí por los columnistas de Inc.com son las suyas propias, no las de Inc.com.

Now, you might support the idea of another airline aid package, and you might not. 

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But at Southwest, which lost $17 million each day during the third quarter, which has seen revenue drop 70 percent, CEO Gary Kelly did something a bit different. 

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This week, Kelly recorded a video for employees in which he said Southwest will keep its streak of not having had layoffs or furloughs for its entire corporate history going, at least until the end of the year.

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After that, however, while Kelly would of course welcome federal aid, he said he's no longer counting on the government. Instead, he wants Southwest to cut its own corners. 

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He's starting with himself: Kelly says he'll go without a salary until the end of 2021, and that other senior executives will take a 20 percent pay cut during that time.

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Other non-union employees will see a pay cut of 10 percent, starting on January 1.

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As a result, Kelly promised, there would be no layoffs through the end of 2021, for any non-union employees -- and their salaries will "snap back" -- meaning regain the 10 percent pay cut -- after one year.

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Now, comes the sticky point: Kelly said he'll also be asking unions to match the pay cuts.

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"My goal has been, and it remains, no furloughs," Kelly said in the video. "If we fail to reach agreement on reasonable concessions quickly, that will have to be the last resort."

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Making this announcement, and basically putting the ball in the unions' court, is an interesting move. Both of the unions representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants and pilots poured cold water on the idea of voluntary cuts.

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The flight attendants union sent me a statement statement saying that it had "made it clear to the company in previous conversations that our members are not interested in making concessions to a contract that took decades to obtain."

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And, the union representing pilots told The Wall Street Journal it had agreed to hold discussions with the company, but also told members in a letter: "Agreeing to discussions is very different than agreeing to concessions."

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So, what happens next? I guess it's likely one of three things.

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First, if the unions agree to the cuts, there are no layoffs, and Kelly keeps Southwest's streak going. 

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Second, if the unions won't agree to the cuts, Kelly moves ahead with furloughs -- but he's basically put the onus on the unions for the losses.

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Finally, if somehow Washington does come to the rescue with a stimulus package after all, regardless of what the unions do, then Kelly is off the hook again--as the whole issue becomes moot, at least for now.

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"If we're so fortunate to have the federal government act and extend the PSP through next March, as has been proposed," he said, "then all these pay cut efforts will be discontinued or reversed. So to repeat, if the PSP is extended, we will discontinue these pay cut efforts."

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I've been wondering since the start of the pandemic which is the smarter course for companies facing temporary tough times--to cut staff, or ask everyone to take a pay cut to save jobs.

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I think it's one of the toughest decisions any business owner has to face, especially now.

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Altruistically, it seems pay cuts might be best, but that happens to fly in the face of advice that Harvard Business School professor Christopher Stanton and some of his colleagues gave a few years ago. 

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They say lay people off instead of cutting salaries; otherwise you risk your top performers moving on, leaving you with a demoralized workforce that only sticks around because they can't get better offers elsewhere.

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Of course, these aren't normal times. So if those are the normal rules, maybe they don't apply.

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I asked Southwest for further comment, saying I was tempted to call the whole strategy shrewd and hardball on Kelly's part. A spokesman for Southwest, Chris Mainz, disagreed.

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"I would argue that this is the very opposite of hardball and is about being as fair and transparent as a leader could possibly be with employees," Mainz wrote. "This is all about saving jobs--and Gary laid out a plan to do just that."

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He added: "Our business is in intensive care, and our CEO is doing everything possible to save jobs and navigate through it."

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Of course, maybe you can be both fair and transparent, and shrewd and hardball, all at the same time. And maybe, that's one definition of leadership. 

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