Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants Ask for Federal Mediation for Stalled Contract

Aug. 1, 2022
The union representing flight attendants at Southwest Airlines has asked federal mediators to step in and help with stalled contract talks after more than three years of negotiations.

The union representing flight attendants at Southwest Airlines has asked federal mediators to step in and help with stalled contract talks after more than three years of negotiations.

Flight attendants with the 14,600-member TWU Local 556 union have already made plans to picket airports at the end of September after complaints that conditions for workers remain poor and that the Dallas-based carrier isn’t moving fast enough toward a new contract. Now the union is asking the National Mediation Board to oversee negotiations to force progress.

The move by flight attendants puts more pressure on a company that is just getting back to full employment after the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with labor difficulties from some of its biggest work groups, including pilots, customer service workers, ground workers and dispatchers.

The request for mediation from TWU Local 556 came shortly after Southwest Airlines sent a collective bargaining update directly to flight attendants offering “industry-leading pay” and improvements to on-call policies, among other changes.

“Instead of a comprehensive proposal, almost four years after our CBA became amendable, the company is now attempting to bargain directly with you with half-truths and inaccurate statements,” the union said in a letter to members this week.

The union said most of the company’s proposals fall well short of demands and that the proposed salary increases don’t keep up with inflation. Southwest Airlines flight attendants made about $65,000 on average in wages and salaries in 2020, the lowest of the four major airlines, according to the MIT Airline Data Project.

Both flight attendants and pilots have complained about problems getting hotels and transportation. They also say flight cancellations and delays continue to wreak havoc on worker schedules.

“It’s creating exhaustion, you are getting sleep issues and we are having problems getting hotels, getting transportation to hotels, getting food,” TWU Local 556 president Lyn Montgomery said earlier this month.

The company said Thursday during its second-quarter earnings call that it has improved on-time and cancellation rates and that operations have been much smoother in the last three months.

But leaders for TWU Local 556 say many problems are still lingering more than two years after the pandemic started.

Sending updates straight to workers, which the company did this week, usually draws the ire of unions because it’s seen as an attempt to work around bargaining leaders.

The two sides are still several steps and likely years away from a strike, although the union has increased its public campaign against the company with online videos and ads attacking the company over flight attendant conditions. Airline union contracts don’t expire like they do in other industries because of federal laws that are meant to keep critical industries functioning. In order to strike, flight attendants would have to show that talks continue to stall under a federal mediator and then ask regulators to strike.

A spokesman for Southwest Airlines said the company is aware of the request for mediation.

“Southwest is committed to working toward reaching an agreement and has proposed industry-leading pay and quality-of-life enhancements for our flight attendants, while also proposing efficiencies to help manage the company’s costs,” Southwest Vice President of labor relations Adam Carslile in a statement. “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 next steps.”

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