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Southwest Airlines flight attendants push for strike after saying pilots got better deal

By Alexandra Skores, The Dallas Morning News
Published: January 24, 2024, 7:46am

Southwest Airlines flight attendants voted to authorize a strike after seeing that pilots at the same carrier got perks they were denied.

In a vote reported by Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents Southwest’s more than 20,000 flight attendants, 17,143 flight attendants voted in favor of the strike authorization. But in October, the union, which is still in mediation with Southwest and working with federal mediators, had a tentative agreement on the table that would have boosted pay 20% in 2024. However, flight attendants voted to reject the contract in December.

Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, said cost of living was the main reason flight attendants voted that agreement down. However, the union discovered more items that were given to Southwest’s pilots when a tentative agreement was reached in December, reaffirming a need to go back to the bargaining table. That deal gives raises of 29% immediately and would boost pay nearly 50% over the four-year contract.

“SWAPA (Southwest Airlines Pilots Association), the pilot’s union … they were given things that we asked for at the table,” Montgomery said. “We were told (those items) would never be delivered to anybody and then they ended up delivering those items to the pilots.”

She said some of the items were items like continued flight benefits while on medical leave. Montgomery said it’s been “very apparent” that flight attendants were “treated differently.” Pilots are also eligible for perks for commuting from the home to crew bases that flight attendants do not receive, she said.

The union, she said, is asking for equality among the two workgroups, pointing out that flight attendants are a predominately female workgroup and pilots are typically male.

Many steps are still needed for a strike to occur at a U.S. airline under the Railway Labor Act, including a 30-day cooling-off period. TWU Local 556′s request for release from mediation would still need to be approved by the National Mediation Board.

“TWU 556′s authorization vote does not affect Southwest’s operation or our ability to take care of our customers,” said Adam Carlisle, vice president of labor relations at Southwest. “We reached an industry-leading tentative agreement with TWU 556 in October, and we will work on next steps to continue mediation and reach another agreement.”

The union said the coming month will continue with town halls, informational picketing, awareness campaigns and social media drives. On Feb. 13, the union will also participate in Flight Attendant Worldwide Day of Action.

“Southwest wants our union to be divided and chaotic so the focus is on each other rather than their mismanagement and lack of respect for our needs,” the union’s strike authorization vote team wrote to members. “You have unified this membership as we fight together toward a contract, and this is just the beginning.”

This week, pilots at Southwest approved a new five-year contract worth $12 billion. Southwest is still in negotiations with its ramp, operations, provisioning and cargo agents.

©2024 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.