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Flight Attendants Union Files for Federal Mediation


Southwest Airlines | Image by Shutterstock

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A report in The Dallas Business Journals revealed that the flight attendants union at Southwest Airlines has filed for federal mediation in its heated labor dispute with the Dallas-based flight operator.

Lyn Montgomery, president of Transportation Workers Union Local 556, released a statement saying the decision to file for the mediation is due to repeated failed attempts to engage in productive bargaining with Southwest management over the last two years.

The decision comes following a meeting between negotiators from Local 556, the union representing 18,000 flight attendants for the Dallas-based airline outfit, and Southwest at the end of July.

“In filing for a federal mediator from the National Mediation Board, TWU Local 556 is demanding productive dialog with Southwest Airlines in the process of negotiations,” Montgomery said.

Flight attendants’ current contract at Southwest became amendable in 2018, but both parties are still yet to agree on terms of a new deal, according to The Dallas Business Journals. Local 556 has now scheduled a picket for September. Montgomery said the union’s decision to file for mediation and conduct a picket puts Southwest on notice that its flight attendants demand a new contract that addresses current working conditions.

Flight attendants also demand higher pay and that Southwest address benefits and quality of life concerns such as scheduling and issues related to flight delays and cancellations.

Montgomery sent a recent negotiating update to union members claiming Southwest’s management “is completely out of touch with the pressing needs of flight attendants.” The union said it handed Southwest a proposal in March but has not received a counter offer.

Montgomery claimed that the July meeting provided no meaningful progress in the negotiation.

“The company did not provide a red-lined response to the union’s comprehensive proposal, nor did the company present a written proposal to the union,” Montgomery said.

The vice president of labor relations at Southwest Airlines, Adam Carlisle, released a statement saying the airline will continue to work towards an agreement with the union and resume negotiation. Carlisle added that Southwest has proposed “industry-leading pay and quality-of-life enhancements” for flight attendants while proposing efficiencies to help manage the company’s costs.

“The mediation process can be helpful in facilitating discussions that allow the parties to reach an agreement, and we look forward to hearing from the National Mediation Board about the next steps,” Carlisle said.

Montgomery confirmed another meeting between the union and Southwest representatives is scheduled for August 29 and 30. However, Montgomery added that the union would pursue all avenues to get a tentative deal.

The National Mediation Board, a body appointed by the president with the consent of the United States Senate, will oversee the mediation process.

If the board determines further mediation will not help both parties reach an agreement after the first rounds of mediation, it could offer a voluntary but-binding arbitration to the Union and Southwest. If both parties decline the arbitration, the process moves to a 30-day “cooling off.”

During the cooling-off period, the employer cannot change pay rates, rules, or working conditions. The employees, or Local 566 in this case, can not embark on a strike. After the cooling-off period, both parties can resolve to self-help such as strikes and lockouts.

In March 1989, the International Association of Machinists, representing mechanics and ground crew workers at Eastern Air Lines, went on strike after the union failed to reach an agreement with the now-defunct Eastern following a 30-day cooling period.

The union’s strike forced Eastern Airlines to sell some of its assets. Coupled with competition brought by deregulation and the increase in aviation fuel prices following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the strike forced Eastern out of operation in 1991, according to The New York Times.

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