Southwest Airlines staff conducts silent protest for new contract

By Multimedia Editor

Hundreds of Southwest Airlines employees protested slow contract negotiations May 18 outside the company’s annual shareholders meeting.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association, which represents the carrier’s pilots, has been in negotiations with Southwest for nearly four years. Pilots have also not received a pay raise since 2011.

Jonathan Weaks, president of Southwest Pilots’ Association, said a new contract must be negotiated now. Weaks said he does not understand why a contract cannot be agreed upon, especially with Southwest’s record profits. Southwest announced the some day 33 percent increase in its quarterly dividend to 10 cents a share.

“They never told us they can’t afford it. They’ve only told us they don’t want to pay us,” Weaks said.

Weaks added that many talented pilots have left Southwest for competing airlines because they feel unappreciated and taken advantage of with the lack of contract negotiations. 

“We’re losing pilots because we don’t have a contract, and it’s been amendable for four years,” Weaks said. “We’re the largest domestic carrier of passengers in the country, [but] those other [carriers] have better pay and benefit package compensation. 

Southwest Captain Kurt Heidemann said he is frustrated after four years of negotiations and just wants a new contract and resolve.

“We’ve made an offer to the company that’s affordable. It allows the company to grow and realize all the necessary things they need to do in their business model,” Heidemann said.  “We just want to get a deal and get back to work.”

Audrey Stone, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents Southwest Airlines flight attendants, said the lack of a contract for Southwest employees also affects customers.

“The employee morale being low [and] the concerns of the stress of ongoing years without a raise can start affecting the atmosphere across the board,” Stone said.

Sam Mann, a first Officer for Southwest, said he thinks a contract will be negotiated and the conflict between Southwest employees, the Southwest Pilots’ Association and Southwest shareholders will be resolved based on the high demand for pilots.

“I think it’s reality. It’s the free market principles,” Mann said. “Pilots are in short supply and they’re in high demand. The company needs to recognize that, because we’re starting to lose talent to other airlines.”

Jill Weinberg, a frequent flyer from Chicago, said the lack of a contract between Southwest and its employees could cause consumers’ to worry they are losing money every year, like the pilots are. 

“That has to affect people somehow…[probably] not immediately, but in the long term,” Weinberg said.

Weaks said he has worked for Southwest Airlines for 26 years and while the company’s principles have changed, he is standing in solidarity with his peers.

“What we’re doing is fighting for our contract, but we’re [also] fighting for the soul of Southwest,” Weaks said.