Southwest Airlines flight attendants plan to picket as labor strife heats up
July 16, 2022
By Kyle Arnold, Dallas Morning News
Southwest Airlines flight attendants say they plan to picket against the company in September at Dallas Love Field and a handful of other airports across the country, echoing ongoing frustrations from pilots, ramp workers and customer service workers about working conditions.
After the union for Southwest Airlines’ pilots picketed at Dallas Love Field in June, flight attendants say they are frustrated after more than three years of contract negotiations and ongoing problems with scheduling, delays, cancellations and getting hotels and transportation during trips.
“We are still having issues from before the pandemic and, at this point, we are saying that we can wait no longer,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of the 14,600-member Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents flight attendants. “We are having to tell our customers we’re sorry constantly and we are right there with them.”
The informational protests are set for Sept. 27 in Dallas, Houston and other major flight attendant bases. Flight attendants at all U.S. airlines are prohibited from striking without going through a long process overseen by the federal government, but Montgomery said the union will file for federal mediation if progress isn’t made soon.
Meanwhile, the company’s second-largest union representing ramp workers is calling the company out over “horrendous treatment” and “poor planning,” TWU Local 555 president Randy Barnes said.
It’s a storm of labor trouble for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines as it tries to push through the busiest travel period in more than two years without the major meltdowns that have been a hallmark of air travel since passengers started to flock back to flying in early 2021.
“Southwest is aware of TWU 556's planned informational picket and respects the rights of our employees to express their opinions,” Southwest Airlines spokesman Chris Perry said. “We now have more employees on each of our operational teams than we did a year ago. Southwest is focused on hiring and training to support our customers and employees.”
The gripes are often the same within Southwest’s disgruntled labor groups and at other airlines where unions are fighting for new contracts put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic: Mandatory overtime, more pay to cover inflation and relief from airline delays and cancellations that have made life unpredictable.
“As long as we have been alive, weather has affected air travel,” Montgomery said. “But this is having a deep impact on our lives because it’s happening so much.”
Southwest Airlines has been on a hiring binge over the last 18 months, adding more than 10,000 employees since January. It now has more employees than it did during the same period in 2019, the first major airline to do so. A majority of those workers have been in operational roles, the company said.
So far this summer, Southwest has avoided major meltdowns that have plagued airlines such as Delta, JetBlue and to some extent, Fort Worth-based American Airlines.
Airlines including Southwest, American, United and Delta are all facing contract negotiations with major work groups after putting off discussions during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now talks are ramping back up again as profits return to the airline industry amid high demand and rising ticket prices.
Ramp workers at Southwest who direct planes to gates and load bags have said they are being overworked as the airline increased flights this summer. Southwest is flying about 12% more flights this summer than it did last year, even though it cut thousands of flights for this summer after it had originally planned to match 2019 schedules.
“Primarily at mega stations throughout the country, we are seeing some drastic work conditions for our membership,” Barnes said.
Southwest has declared emergency conditions that require mandatory overtime, Barnes said. He noted that emergency conditions have been blamed on higher-than-normal sick calls, but said it also creates exhaustion and puts personal strain on workers, especially those without child care.
Barnes said there has been progress on contract talks and he hopes to get a deal soon that includes pay raises.