Southwest Airlines suspended 105 ground workers for between 45 and 90 days. Their union, the Transport Workers Union, says Southwest did it to punish them for attending union meetings.
Naturally, the truth is far more complicated than that and paints a far bleaker picture of what the workers did — and relations between Southwest and the TWU (as well as many of their other unions).
The union held a meeting on November 18 in Southern California, and Southwest workers skipped work en masse to attend. Not a single ground worker showed up at Burbank airport that day. Other West Coast stations found themselves understaffed by surprise as well.
The next day Southwest Airlines suspended 210 employees with pay pending an investigation. Half of those received the 45 to 90 day suspension without pay, presumably because Southwest didn’t have strong enough evidence for the behavior of the other 105. The TWU calls the suspensions, before the holidays, “Grinch like.” (The union doesn’t coin a phrase for the inconvenience to the airline and its passengers from the coordinated job action last month.)
Southwest and this union have been in negotiations since 2011. This year Southwest’s flight attendants and pilots have each rejected tentative agreements.
- The contract for these ramp, operations, and cargo agents expired in 2011
- The contract for pilots expired in 2012
- The contract for mechanics expired in 2012
- The contract for flight attendants expired in 2013
- The contract for material specialists expired in 2013
Southwest’s workforce is nearly 85% unionized, and finds itself actively negotiating 7 contracts at once.
Southwest didn’t go through bankruptcy like its major domestic competitors, and faces higher costs than low cost carriers like Spirit and Allegiant. With fuel costs low, work groups at the major US carriers have been getting raises. So labor expectations are on the rise, while Southwest finds itself squeezed (though buoyed by low fuel prices).
While they’re growing in their home at Dallas Love Field, they find themselves a different carrier than they were in their youth — with a culture of ‘fun’ and ‘teamwork’ with limitless growth ahead of them. Now they’re a major domestic airline, operating in a highly unionized environment. In other words, they’re just like everyone else.