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Flight attendants protest schedule havoc at airports across U.S.

Date: September 27, 2022

By Kate Gibson, CBS News

Flight attendants at United and Southwest airlines on Tuesday staged protests at airports across the U.S. to draw attention to chaotic scheduling and other workplace woes. 

Airline employees picketed in 15 airports in cities and territories including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Newark, Phoenix and Guam. At Dallas Love Field Airport, flight attendants not scheduled to work held an informational picket calling for improved compensation and ways to make life less difficult for themselves and passengers. 

"A better operation will mean a better quality of life with fewer reroutes and technology failures that leave passengers and flight attendants stranded," the Transport Workers Union Local 556, the union for 18,000 flight attendants at Dallas-based Southwest, tweeted on Tuesday. 

"Southwest Airlines has an award-winning culture that respects our employees and encourages them to express their opinions. Informational picketing is common during contract negotiations, and we do not anticipate any disruption in service," a spokesperson stated in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

The demonstrations came as members of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation's biggest union for aircraft crew members, including flight attendants at Chicago-based United, also staged protests.

United needs to fix problems that create havoc for flight attendants and travelers alike, according to the AFA. "This summer was one of the worst in recent history," Ken Diaz, president of the union's United chapter, said Tuesday in a statement. "Passengers bore the brunt and so did flight attendants."

United canceled more than a dozen flights last week due to its lack of mandatory inspections for some of its Boeing 777-200 planes, with the AFA citing the scenario as an example of management dysfunction.

Complaints of insufficient staffing

United's failure to properly staff crew schedulers, catering and other jobs has exacerbated flight disruptions, the union contends, which claims the airline has refused to acknowledge the problems.

United said it has worked with flight attendants to address scheduling issues. 

"We've worked hard to reduce wait times for flight attendants to talk to a crew scheduler, including more hiring and adding digital options for some items," a United spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.

At San Francisco International Airport, meanwhile, workers including cashiers, baristas, cooks, and other restaurant and lounge employees walked picket lines on Tuesday for a second day. The roughly 1,000 workers make about $17 an hour and haven't had a pay raise in three years, with contract negotiations stalled after nine months, according to the union that represents them.

The airline industry is contending with the return of passengers previously sidelined by the pandemic, while also facing a shortage of pilots after many retired early or accepted buyouts.

The walkout and picketing at airports comes amid a surge of organizing at large employers like Amazon, Starbucks and Trader Joe's, along with student workers on college campuses. On Capitol Hill, staffers in Democratic Rep. Andy Levin's office recently voted to form a union. 

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