For the first time ever, a federal mediator will try to help Southwest Airlines and its ground workers union to hammer out a new contract.

Earlier this week, the International Association of Machinists asked the National Mediation Board to get involved in contract talks between the passenger service and reservations agents union and Southwest management because the parties have not reached a new agreement after two years of negotiations.

IAM District 142 president Tom Higgenbotham said on Thursday that the union was notified by the mediation board that Victoria Gray has been assigned to the case.

“We expect in the not-too-distant future that the mediator will set up meetings for us,” Higgenbotham said.

The union had filed for mediation only once before, he said, but worked out a new contract before the mediator was assigned.

The IAM represents about 6,000 employees at Southwest.

In a statement, Southwest said airline officials were disappointed with the union’s request for a mediator.

“We go into this request knowing that our employees already have an industry-leading contract that provides the best wages, benefits and work rules in the industry,” the company said. “We are committed to negotiating in good faith and honoring our deep commitment to the People of Southwest.”

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631 Twitter: @Sky_Talk ___

Photo Credit: Southwest unveiled a new "listening center" for customer service and social media staff. Southwest Airlines