Thursday, October 6, 2016

Southwest Airlines flight attendants' reaction to tentative agreement is mixed

A new three-year tentative agreement was distributed to Southwest Airlines flight attendants late last week, and as some sources predicted, the reaction to the document, which runs a whopping 277 pages in its entirety, has been decidedly mixed, despite efforts in recent weeks by both leadership of Transport Workers Union Local 556 that represents Southwest flight attendants and Southwest Airlines management to put the most positive spin possible on the deal.

According to some sources, the 15.9 percent ratification bonus amounts to little more than "a joke."

Noted one source among the ranks of Southwest flight attendants: "Subtract a yearly cost of living adjustment to it and it's nothing," especially when factoring in a 25 percent tax on the bonus.

Some are feeling disrespected because pilots got a full retroactive pay deal that is unavailable to flight attendants in their tentative agreement.

Noted another source: "You cannot give one employee group full retro on pay, 401K and profit-sharing and then toss another a partial bone."

Also of concern, some say, is the absence of any language to address the excessive amounts of unpaid ground time many flight attendants have been enduring recently. Yet another concern is insufficient language about what might change for flight attendants if Southwest were to announce another airline merger, which has been rumored for months to be in Southwest CEO Gary Kelly's game plan.

Some argue the new TA is just a brazen appeal to many junior flight attendants who want the money. Indeed, in a letter to more than 14,500 rank and file flight attendants from the Local 556 negotiating team that accompanied distribution of the tentative agreement, money was stressed: "The total value of new money to us as flight attendants in the new TA is $350 million. That is over one-third of a billion dollars in our pockets."

But is that enough? A source who has been supportive of the negotiating team didn't understand the pushback on the new TA: "Greed is a horrible thing. Reality is our job is unskilled labor with no education requirements and four weeks of training. What is the ceiling for such a position? Serving cokes and peanuts I have become a multi-millionaire." The source also noted personal earnings last year from the job as a Southwest flight attendant of $155,000 not including per diems, as well as $24,000 in profit sharing and $15,000 in a 401K match.

Even so, another source went out on a limb and predicted the new TA would be voted down by a 70/30 margin. Whether efforts to educate the Local 556 rank and file about the TA will make a difference in getting the deal passed remains to be seen. The letter from the union negotiating team encouraged rank and file to "support your TA educators," adding "they are your fellow flight attendants, working for our collective future."

Finally, the letter from the negotiating team reminded union members of an overarching theme: "Is this TA perfect? Not at all, no contract is. Bargaining is a process of give and take."

(Lewis Lazare - Chicago Business Journal)

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