Flight Attendants Rally

Published in PWW Feb 28, 2004

Flight Attendants in Transport Workers Union (TWU) local 556 sent a powerful Valentine's Day message to the bosses at Southwest Airlines on February 13 with informational pickets and rallies at all seven major airports served. There were over 100 off-duty workers at each site for three hours at mid-day.

At Love Field in Dallas, 150 flight attendants were joined by members of other TWU locals, Teamsters, Auto Workers, Communications Workers, Needletrade Workers, and Jobs with Justice. Many of them carried printed red signs that said, "Has the 'LUV' Airline Lost its Heart? They're Breaking Ours!" Cars and trucks responded to their "Honk if you are with us!" signs. Every time a Southwest plane approached the landing strip, the crowd went wild with shouts and waving. They chanted and cheered through the entire three hours. Conga lines formed to weave through the crowd shouting, "2-4-6-8, Come on Jim, Negotiate!" Jim Parker, CEO at Southwest, received the blame for nearly two years of company stalling on a decent contract. Most major news outlets covered the colorful and noisy assemblage.

The main issue that rally participants mentioned is pay. They said that they are 30% behind their colleagues at other airlines. Their supporters from other unions are infuriated when they learn that the flight attendants are forced to work through their breaks. They clean the airplanes while they are on the ground, but only get paid when they are in the air!

In the past, the airline has profited from a lack of militancy from their unions. According to the Dallas newspaper, Southwest pilots voted 2-1 in August, 2002, to accept an extension of their old contract, even though their union had recommended a "no" vote. Afterward, they voted their president, who advocated standing up to management, out of office. Flight attendants at the February 13 rally admitted that they had caved in to management bullying in previous negotiations. The resulting gusher of profits has made Southwest Airlines the envy of stockholders throughout the industry.

But the caving days are over, according to union leaders like President Thom McDaniel and Dallas AFL-CIO delegate Gwen Dunivent. Dunivent told reporters, "This is a whole new day for Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants!"

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