Southwest attendants ready for long talks
Audrey Stone doesn't hesitate when asked how long contract negotiations will last between Southwest Airlines and the flight attendants union she leads.
“As long as it takes,” Stone said on a recent morning in Baltimore — a city she has called home since 2004 despite regular commutes to Dallas, where Southwest is headquartered.
As president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents more than 10,500 Southwest flight attendants nationwide, Stone is the lead union representative at the table with the airline as the parties negotiate a contract with broad implications for the airline's workforce.
For decades, Southwest has been known for relatively peaceful negotiations with its worker groups, a reality that industry observers chalk up to an in-house mantra of valuing employees — the company's stock-ticker symbol is LUV — and the strong unionization of the company's workers.
But negotiations with some of its unions — including ground workers — have stretched for more than two years as the company attempts to adjust its workforce amid growth, Stone said.
The company is growing, having acquired AirTran, and is eyeing overseas markets, and growth often prompts efforts to change contracts, airline industry analysts said.
Southwest proposals have been floated to scale back sick-leave accrual and other benefits for some work groups, Stone said, and she doesn't know if that represents an across-the-board culture shift for the company that she'll have to confront.
If so, things could get bumpy in coming months, as her talks with the company shift from agreeable aspects of the flight attendants' contract to issues of benefits and compensation, Stone said.
“Our negotiations are really going to be the test for whether the culture has really changed,” said Stone, a Texas native who lives in Mount Vernon, Md. “We're prepared for similar proposals, but hopeful they have learned after protracted negotiations that the employees are not going to stand for it.”
Stone entered into negotiations with Southwest officials in June.
Brandy King, a Southwest spokeswoman, said the company's goal in negotiations with all of its workers is to “remain the best place to work” and to secure the company's future.
“In order to achieve this goal, we are always looking to improve efficiencies; reduce unnecessary costs; reward our outstanding employees; and continue to partner with our work groups,” King said in a statement.
Stone said much is at stake.
One issue of concern for flight attendants is how the airline intends to work out logistics with its larger Boeing 737-800 planes, which carry more passengers than the standard Boeing 737 and take longer to board, disembark and prepare between flights.
The turnaround of a 737 takes about 20 minutes, while a 737-800 takes 45 minutes to an hour, Stone said.
Flight attendants are paid per hour while flying, but aren't paid when not flying, so “from the flight attendants' perspective, the time of their day when they're not getting paid has increased,” Stone said.
The hourly wage for Southwest flight attendants starts at $22.36 for new employees to $56.29 for the most senior, according to Stone.
Seniority issues with the hundreds of incoming AirTran flight attendants have been worked out, with Southwest flight attendants getting an extra 2 1⁄2 years of seniority over their AirTran counterparts, Stone said. But tensions remain as AirTran flight attendants transition to Southwest hubs.
Seniority is a major issue for flight attendants because it is a key determinant in how they get to select routes, hubs and schedules.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Few in Westmoreland County opposed to expansion plan for Mariner pipeline
- Rue21 plays to tough teen crowd with new store in Cranberry
- Western Pa. builders earn top honors for work
- Oilfield employee cutbacks may benefit long-haul trucking
- Wolf tax proposal puts Beaver County Shell plant at risk, gas group head says
- Refinery turbulence drives up pump prices
- Oil stocks drag on Dow, S&P 500; Nasdaq moves closer to record
- Rocket firm hired to probe deadly air bags
- Make me a match: Fidelity to match some IRA contributions
- Giant Eagle to close all 8 Good Cents locations
- Whistle-blower incentives advance