Southwest Airlines Reaches Tentative Agreement for Customer Service Employees

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A contract vote continues at Southwest Airlines on a tentative agreement (TA) negotiated by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union for the 7,000 customer service employees of the company.

Southwest Airlines 737-7H4 departing Fort Lauderdale Airport in Florida, November 2021

The four-year TA announced last March includes a salary increase of 6.5% on the date of ratification and a 3% increase for each of the next three years of the agreement, well below the rate of inflation . The TA also includes a company bonus of $1,000 to $3,000 as well as a productivity bonus of $400 using sick leave data. The TA also sets a monthly cap of 32 hours for compulsory overtime.

Adam Carlisle, Vice President of Labor Relations at Southwest Airlines, said, “This agreement rewards our hardworking customer service employees, who have certainly demonstrated their dedication to Southwest by continuing to help our customers throughout the pandemic. We appreciate the dedication and courage shown by both negotiating committees as we worked to reach this agreement.

The proposed contract with Southwest Airlines’ IAM comes at a time of expanding class struggle in airlines and other industries. On Thursday, April 21, 100 furloughed Delta Air Lines pilots quietly picketed Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as part of a multi-airport event in the United States. “They have the planes, but not enough pilots, so they overschedule the airline relying on those pilots to recoup those overtime hours. If our pilots weren’t taking those overtime hours, there would likely be cancellations,” Delta Air Lines Captain Jason Ambrosi told FOX 9 in Bloomington, MN. The company attributes this overscheduling issue to a shortage of pilots caused by aging flight crews, with many eligible pilots retiring early during the pandemic to protect their lives.

Alaska Airlines pilots will soon be receiving ballots for a May 9 strike authorization vote due to stalled federally mediated negotiations. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) union had been negotiating a new contract with Alaska Airlines since 2019, with a pause in negotiations at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote to authorize a strike is mainly theatrical, since the National Mediation Council does not authorize “legal” strikes by airline and railway workers unless negotiations have completely failed and a long process of mediation is exhausted. The overwhelming majority (99 per cent) of industry mediations brought before the board since 1980 have prevented a strike by forcing a settlement between unions and management.

Such deals are welcome for union bureaucrats, who go to great lengths to avoid calling a strike. Will McQuillen, chairman of the Main Executive Council (MEC) of Alaska Airlines, an ALPA arm, said the union was looking for a management-friendly deal that it could sell to members. “Alaska Pilots are not looking to knock. We are looking for market enhancements to our contract, but it will also allow our business to grow and remain successful and competitive. However, we are willing to take any necessary legal action, including a legal strike.

Common expressions such as “in line with the market” show the willingness of unions to eliminate labor costs to “enable [their companies] to grow and remain efficient and competitive. McQuillen’s reference to “legal measures” indicates his complete subordination of workers’ interests to the process of corporate contract mediation aimed at delaying the strike indefinitely.

The IAM recognizes that its Southwest Airlines members have been forced to continue working under less safe conditions throughout the pandemic and welcomes a TA that offers a 6.5% first-year wage increase to a time when 8.5% inflation effectively drives up that increase. a pay cut. The next three years of 3% annual increases are a further insult to workers, who will continue to see their living conditions eroded by soaring prices.

Health of airline workers further compromised as airlines drop COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking requirements after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Mizelle overturned federal transportation mask mandate public, including air travel.

Meanwhile, foreign airlines like Swiss-operated EasyJet have had to cancel hundreds of flights as the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant of COVID-19 tears through a working population as the ruling class drops even the pretense to try to contain the virus.

The abandonment of all mitigation measures comes just three months after US airlines had to cut flights by 8-10%, or around 29,000 flights, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, causing an “unprecedented” number of sick workers. Over the Christmas holidays, nearly a third of United Airlines employees reported sick at Newark Liberty International Airport.

Meanwhile, ALPA, IAM and other unions are colluding with the airlines in dismantling all COVID safety protections while attempting to impose grossly inadequate wage increases. This raises the need for airline workers to take independent action outside the framework of pro-corporate unions by joining and building the network of rank-and-file committees to protect their lives and livelihoods. Workers must insist that the protection of decent and safe working conditions and decent wages take precedence over airline profits.

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