Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has come to a tentative contract deal with the union representing its 450 dispatchers that would give immediate 17% raises and scheduling improvements, a positive sign for the carrier after a rocky year of labor relations.
Southwest has now come to tentative deals with two major labor groups, including customer service workers, but is still working to get agreements with pilots and flight attendants.
The deal with dispatchers includes a group that mostly works in Southwest’s flight operations center in Dallas, directing and coordinating the carrier’s 700 aircraft and crews across the country.
Workers will get a signing bonus, a 17.1% immediate raise on the date of ratification and annual 3% raises starting June 1, along with improvements in schedule and the annual number of days worked, said TWU Local 550 president Brian Brown.
“Herb Kelleher once said that ‘Dispatchers are the heart of the airline,’” Brown said. “We prove him right every day by ensuring a safe, efficient, and reliable operation for our customers and flight crews.”
Like other union groups, dispatchers have complained that they have been overworked since the airline has pushed to ramp back up after the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown said dispatchers have often worked under mandatory overtime conditions as the group is understaffed.
The dispatcher union also complained about technology shortfalls during the company’s 16,700 flight cancellation meltdown during the holidays, warning that the company’s tech infrastructure and point-to-point network had outgrown the carrier’s investments.
During picketing in November, Brown said dispatchers had hoped for a 20% to 25% immediate raise.
“This agreement rewards our dispatch employees for their many contributions while also supporting the needs of our business,” said Southwest Airlines vice president labor of relations Adam Carlisle in a statement. “I appreciate the partnership and dedication from both negotiating teams as they worked to reach this agreement.”
The deal with dispatchers bests the up-front 13.1% pay raises that Southwest’s 8,300 customer service workers got after ratifying a new contract in December.
The new contract still needs to be approved by a majority of TWU Local 550 members. It usually takes two to three months to hold a vote.
Last week, the union for Southwest’s 10,000-member pilot group authorized a strike vote as it tries to negotiate a new deal for raises and scheduling improvements.