Union president Charles Cerf said a major roadblock to an agreement has been Southwest's desire to replace some of its full-time employees with either part-timers or workers who are employed by outside contractors. Cerf said Southwest wants to use contractors for 20 percent of its ground crews.
May 10--Baggage handlers and other Southwest Airlines employees walked picket lines at Ontario International Airport and at more than a dozen other locations Thursday to focus attention on the very slow pace of negotiations for a new contract.
Some 9,500 members of Local 555 of the Transport Workers Union have been working without a contract for almost two years, and the union and Southwest Airlines have been with a federal mediator in an attempt to resolve the stalemate. The picketing on Thursday, May 9, was organized to call attention to the stalled talks.
Charles Cerf, president of the local, said in an interview that there are 110 Southwest employees at ONT affected by these negotiations. The airline handles about half the flights at the airport, flying mostly to Western states and to Southwest's Dallas hub.
The federal mediator was brought in last October, Cerf said. Medical benefits and sick leave options are two of the issues that have stalled the negotiations.
"We've been unable to reach agreements on almost everything," Cerf said.
Southwest spokesperson Brandy King said in an emailed statement that the airline "supports our employees' right to express themselves," and that company is trying to reach a fair settlement.
"We've taken care of our employees for 42 years and we will continue to do so," King said in the statement.
Cerf said a major roadblock to an agreement has been Southwest's desire to replace some of its full-time employees with either part-timers or workers who are employed by outside contractors. These are workers who handle and load luggage and freight and who stock the planes with provisions. Cerf said Southwest wants to use contractors for 20 percent of its ground crews.
Union baggage handlers generally earn about $20 per hour, and Cerf said contractors' employees usually make about half of that.
"From the feedback we got from our leafleting, we got the impression that the passengers who look out the planes' windows expect to see Southwest employees out there," he said. "We think that's good for the company and for the customers."
King said Southwest is "working towards a solution" that gives employees better job and pay security. She said the company is not looking to outsource jobs but does need to make adjustments to its work level.
"We need the ability to add flexibility by utilizing part-time and seasonal employees when extra help is needed at certain times of the day, week and year," she said in the statement.
Southwest last month reported a first-quarter profit of about $59 million, equal to 7 cents per share. Thursday's picket lines were at several major terminals across the country, including Los Angeles, Atlanta and the company's home base of Dallas.
Copyright 2013 - The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.