Airline workers advocate for fair pay in post-pandemic industry shift

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By Rob Samuelson

The labor atmosphere within Southwest Airlines has reached a critical juncture as the union representing its flight attendants, Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 556, has voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike authorization. 

This decision follows the rejection of a previously negotiated contract between the airline and the union. Representing over 21,000 flight attendants, TWU Local 556 now faces a pivotal return to the negotiating table, aiming for terms more favorable to its members.

Historic strike vote by Southwest Airlines flight attendants union

In an unprecedented move in the union’s history, about 98 percent of voting members supported the strike authorization. This marks a notable shift in the flight attendants’ stance against Southwest Airlines. 

Credit: DepositPhotos

The union communicated this significant moment with a firm declaration: “We made HISTORY! Never in our history have members approved a strike authorization. You made your voice heard! 98% YES sends a strong message of solidarity,” as stated on their social media platform, X (formerly Twitter). 

The union’s commitment is clear, with an expressed willingness to do “whatever it takes” to secure a contract that duly recognizes the flight attendants’ contributions.

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TWU Local 556 president advocates for industry-leading contract terms and equity

Lyn Montgomery, the president of TWU Local 556 and a seasoned flight attendant herself, has voiced the necessity for a contract that establishes a new benchmark in the industry. 

Flight attendants at Southwest are seeking changes that include more predictable scheduling, fair compensation for ground duties, improved policies for commuting crew, and ensuring safe accommodations during overnight stays. 

Montgomery’s statement pointedly addresses the perceived inequities: “When you are told at the negotiating table that certain work rule changes are off-limits, and then you grant them to another workgroup, it’s clear that you do not value employees equally.”

TWU Local 556’s fight for respect and quality of life beyond professional roles

She further elaborates on the broader implications of this fight, emphasizing that it transcends beyond job roles to the fundamental respect for their personhood. 

“This is not just about job roles; at this point, our fight is about valuing our very personhood. Our employer has failed to implement even no-cost work rule changes that would improve our quality of life.” 

“While we battle for our earned value professionally, we find that we also fight to be valued as people. Even that seems up in the air with Southwest Airlines management today.”

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Rejection of previous contract and future negotiations

Last month’s rejection of the contract, which reportedly offered industry-leading pay, was a significant move by the flight attendants. 

Credit: DepositPhotos

This deal proposed a 16 percent higher pay rate than Delta Air Lines’ non-union crews. Montgomery reflects on this decision, highlighting the prolonged five-year negotiation period when flight attendants saw no pay raises. 

“We will go back to the table to achieve the collective bargaining agreement that meets the needs of the hardest-working flight attendants in the industry,” she stated.

Airline workers push for fair pay in post-pandemic industry shift

This situation at Southwest Airlines is not isolated but is part of a more significant trend in the airline industry. 

Airline workers, having worked diligently through the pandemic, are now advocating for better compensation, mirroring successful efforts by pilots at other major airlines like American, United, and Delta, who have secured substantial raises. 

The context is clear: with airlines returning to profitability post-pandemic, the workforce is asserting its value and demanding fair recognition and compensation for their contributions.

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