Southwest Airlines baggage handlers picket at Lambert

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Southwest Baggage Handlers
PROTESTING SERVICE DECLINE: Southwest Airlines ground workers picketed Lambert International Airport last week to protest a decline in customer service at Terminal 2. – Cristina Fletes-Boutte/Post-Dispatch photo

Lambert Airport – Southwest Airlines baggage handlers picketed Dec. 23 to draw attention to languishing contract talks and working conditions that have caused the airline’s on-time performance to sputter.

Several members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 555 walked outside the Terminal 2 departure entrance, carrying signs and chanting, “Record profits, empty pockets,” mirroring similar informational picketing and leafleting in Burbank, CA.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and Phoenix, AZ.

TWU Local 555 members – the ramp workers who handle baggage for Southwest customers – are concerned about current management practices.

Mismanaging flight schedules has led to frequent delays for passengers and a strain on the airline’s operations, the 10,000-member union said in a press release.

“In the past, Southwest has been a successful company for all stakeholders because of a culture that valued workers and put a premium on industry-leading customer service,” said TWU Local 555 President Charles Cerf. “Under current leadership, both customers and workers have been devalued.”

4 YEARS WITHOUT A RAISE

The company also is mistreating workers, with no pay raises in four years for most ground workers, despite steadily increasing workloads.

“Southwest is now achieving record profits, including half-a-billion dollars in the second quarter,” Cerf said. “But service to passengers is deteriorating, and most ground workers have not had a raise in four years.”

DECLINING PERFORMANCE

Southwest Adverstisement
THE NEW SOUTHWEST: TWU Local 555 is running this advertisement in USA Today to inform consumers about “The New Southwest Airlines Economics,” where “Bags Fly Free” while customers face costly delays and ground workers are shortchanged.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Southwest’s on-time performance was 71.9 percent for the 12-month period that ended in October, the last month for which statistics are available.

That performance ranked No. 10 out of 14 air carriers listed.

More than 82 percent of Southwest flights arrived on time during the same 12-month period in 2009.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Southwest’s problems with on-time performance are due to the airline’s “deliberate, and very ill-advised, strategy to cram more flights into its schedule without expanding its aircraft fleet and while adding seats to its existing planes.”

DECLINING RELATIONS

Southwest had long enjoyed good relations with its employees, but that climate changed after legendary founder and chairman emeritus Herb Kelleher stepped down six years ago.

The focus is now on the bottom line.

TWU Local 555 has been in negotiations with Southwest for a new contract since July of 2011, with little progress during the past three-and-a-half years.

The union is running an advertisement in USA Today to inform consumers about “The New Southwest Airlines Economics,” where “Bags Fly Free” while customers face costly delays and ground workers are shortchanged.

For more information, visit www.twu555.org.

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