Flight Attendants Want New Contract
unionized flight attendants brought a year-old campaign for a new
labor contract to Philadelphia Monday, where the discount carrier
plans to start service May 9. A group of 10 flight attendants,
joined by about 30 local labor leaders and members of other unions,
gathered at noon in a cold drizzle in front of City Hall, chanting
slogans and holding signs that read "Has The LUV Airline Lost Its
Heart?" Southwest, which is based at Love Field in Dallas, uses LUV
as its trading symbol on the New York Stock Exchange and often
plays on the word luv in its advertising.
The flight attendants, members of the Transport Workers Union,
contend that Southwest, after building a reputation over three
decades for good relations with its mostly unionized workforce, has
not offered flight attendants a raise comparable to what it has
given other labor groups. James Parker, Southwest's vice chairman
and chief executive officer, has denied the union's charges, saying
the company has offered a fair contract. In communications sent to
the attendants, Parker has chastised the union for its using
"divisive rhetoric and confrontational tactics" that he said had
not helped the negotiating process.
Union leaders said the rally in Philadelphia, where Southwest
has no employees yet, was one of more than 40 demonstrations in 34
cities, staged over the last year to let both would-be airline
workers and potential customers know about the talks.
"Parker seems to think we're just a small group of disgruntled
employees," union spokeswoman Susan Kern said. "They need to know"
the union speaks for more than 7,300 members, she said.
"My biggest issue is starting pay," said Frances Woolsey, a
13-year flight attendant who lives in Wilmington and came to the
rally with her 5-month-old son, George, in a stroller. "The new
ones don't make anything... . Some flight attendants are eligible
for food stamps."
First-year flight attendants for Southwest and most other
airlines make $13,000 to $14,000 a year, union officials said.
Negotiations with the union started almost two years ago, and
reached an impasse in September when the company asked for the
talks to be put under the control of a mediator appointed by the
National Mediation Board, the federal agency that referees airline
and railroad labor disputes.
Airline contracts do
not have expiration dates, but the agreements become amendable on
specific dates, and both sides are required by law to continue a
lengthy negotiating process. The last meeting with the mediator was
earlier this month, and no more talks were scheduled, company
spokeswoman Ginger Hardage said. Union leaders said Southwest's
last offer called for raises of about 17 percent over 61/2 years,
which is about half as much as other Southwest employee groups have
gotten in new contracts over the last two years.
Hardage said those figures were not accurate, but declined to
provide details of the company's latest offer. "We believe our
flight attendants, who are the best in the industry, have the right
to see the contract themselves," she said. "We believe it's a
substantial offer. It offers industry-leading pay raises" and other
benefits, she said.
When it debuts here, Southwest will have just 14 flights a day
from Philadelphia International Airport to six cities, with fares
that sharply undercut the unrestricted prices charged by US
Airways, the region's dominant carrier, and other major airlines.
Southwest will employ only 50 people or so at Philadelphia when it
starts service here, but analysts expect the airline to increase
its flights and add employees over the next few years.