Following last year’s operational meltdown, Southwest Airlines is under fire once again, but this time the heat is coming from its own workforce.
Beginning at 10:00 a.m. today, March 2, off-duty flight attendants represented by the TWU Local 556 union organized an informational picket outside Dallas Love Field airport, demanding improvement of working conditions as well as a modernization of the airline’s system.
According to NBCDFW, the union is asking for better conditions — not just for employees, but also for a better experience for their customers. “We are fighting for our customers and our passengers who endure some of the same things we do when Southwest has one of these meltdowns,” Michael Massoni, first vice president of TWU Local 556 told NBCDFW.
"What happened during the holidays is an outward reflection of what is internally wrong at Southwest Airlines,” President and Lead Negotiator of TWU Local 556 Lyn Montgomery told KTNV. “For a long time now we've been telling Southwest Airlines, they need to invest in its technology and they need to handle winter storms better."
TWU Local 556 is not the first workers' organization to speak up after last year’s disaster. On February 9, Captain Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airline Pilot Association (SWAPA) testified before the US Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee during a hearing about strengthening airline operations. The hearing was part of the Committee’s investigations into the Dec. 2022’s system meltdown.
According to a statement released by SWAPA, pilots at the airline had been sounding the alarm about SWA’s outdated crew scheduling and IT processes for years but the airline ignored their warnings.
With the “Make It Right” slogan, the union is negotiating several improvements to their working conditions. According to NBCDFW, these negotiations have been ongoing since 2018, well before the pandemic added stress to the airline industry. This means that the approximately 16,000 flight attendants employed by the airline have been working without a new contract for four years.
Some of the union's demands include:
- Paying flight attendants for time worked, including when passengers are boarding and when flight attendants are required to work outside of hours originally scheduled.
- Providing access to food and a safe place to rest when traveling on the job. The union said a lack of hot food and sometimes even hotel rooms leave flight attendants with little to eat and sometimes sleeping on the airport floor.
- Creating a modern reserve system that meets the needs of both the operation and employees and ending the unsafe practice of putting flight attendants on 24-hour on-call shifts.
- Fixing technology issues and other archaic systems that impact passengers and disproportionately impact frontline aviation workers, including flight attendants.
According to NBCDFW’s report, workers are still using a system built in the 1970s that delays routine procedures like checking in for work or calling out sick for hours. Massoni said that these backlogs worsened during the holiday meltdown, making employees stand on hold for up to seven hours before they could get through.
“There's some real archaic, not just technologies and not just work rules, but archaic ways of thinking that have to change,” added Massoni.
“Informational picketing is common during times of contract negotiations, and Southwest respects our Flight Attendants’ right to conduct such events to express their viewpoints,” said Southwest Airlines when contacted for comment on today’s protest.