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Forbes Article On SWA And F/A Negotiations

Thu Apr 15, 2004 6:22 am

It's been said (with respect to divorce) that there are -3- sides to the story: His, hers, and then there's the TRUTH... Likewise in business to some degree, I suspect...

Hope it gets settled soon, and in the most constructive and mutually beneficial way possible...for both sides...

Southwest And Union: Point, Counterpoint
04.14.04, 3:31 PM ET

We received the following letters from the Southwest Airlines flight attendants' union and Southwest management in response to "Southwest CEO Lands In Hot Seat," which posted March 29. That story noted Chief Executive James Parker's sudden drop in our monthly CEO Approval Ratings poll--which may be related to Southwest's stalled contract negotiations with this union.

From the union:

In the story "Southwest CEO Lands In Hot Seat," regarding Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Jim Parker's low approval ratings on the Forbes.com poll, there are a few issues that should be clarified.

As president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents the Southwest Airlines flight attendants, I was quoted as saying that management had refused to meet with the union to negotiate further. The company's eloquent response was, "Baloney, we gave them our best offer, and they barely looked at it." Our union negotiating team has carefully considered and analyzed management's "best offer" and has prepared a counteroffer.

While the federal mediator has not scheduled any further meetings, our union has offered to return to the bargaining table several times. Management has not taken us up on our request to continue negotiations, and has insisted that they would only return to the table to discuss releasing their "best" offer for a vote.

The company also stated, "They wouldn't even let their members see it." This statement is also false. Management released their "best" offer to our members a few days after the last mediated bargaining session in an attempt to bypass the union and bargain directly with our members--a blatant violation of the Railway Labor Act. The union responded by releasing a comparison of both the union and management offers for our members to consider. The response from our members to management's offer and direct-bargaining attempts has been overwhelmingly negative, as evidenced by the Forbes.com poll. Management's goal was to force a vote on their substandard "best" offer, and our members have overwhelmingly rejected their tactics.

It should be noted that airline analyst Glenn Engel, who freely offers his opinion of the flight attendant negotiations, refused to meet with members of the flight attendant negotiating team a few weeks ago when they traveled to Wall Street to update analysts on the current state of negotiations.

Southwest Airlines has taken the stand that a "small group of people" is trying to smear Jim Parker, when on Feb. 13, over 1,200 flight attendants protested nationwide after over two years of trying to negotiate the same fair work rules, benefits and compensation that all other work groups at Southwest Airlines have negotiated. While protests like these may not have moved negotiations forward, it would seem that Mr. Parker would notice that the airline's largest and most visible work group has also become the angriest and most frustrated.

The union remains committed and available to meet with management at any time to settle this dispute, hopefully before labor relations and the legendary Southwest culture are damaged beyond repair. The contract will be resolved when we return to the negotiating table, not through public posturing and direct bargaining. The outstanding flight attendants of Southwest Airlines deserve to be treated as well as we treat our passengers. Mr. Parker, we are ready to bargain, but since our phone is not ringing, it must be you.

Thom McDaniel
President, TWU Local 556

From management:

Union comment: The union has made several attempts to restart the talks, but the company won't come back to the bargaining table.

Response: Southwest Airlines and TWU Local 556 have been in active contract negotiations since May 2002. The union presented its first economic proposal regarding pay rates on June 26, 2003. The parties discussed the compensation issues at length during negotiating sessions in July and August 2003, but little progress was made in reaching a compromise agreement. In hopes of bringing the negotiations to a speedy and mutually acceptable conclusion, the company requested mediation assistance in September 2003 from the National Mediation Board. The NMB is the federal agency with oversight responsibility for labor-management relations in the airline and railroad industries. After five months of federally mediated negotiations, the company presented TWU 556 with its best compensation offer at approximately 4 P.M. on Feb. 6, 2004. At that point, the union negotiating team left the bargaining table to review the company's proposal, but never returned.

The union's departure came as quite a surprise, given that it was the company's understanding, based on union publications and media statements, that the union was willing to bargain "day and night" for as long as it takes. The company negotiating team was fully prepared to negotiate around the clock to reach an agreement; however, upon the union's departure, the federal mediator declared the negotiations "in recess" for an unspecified period of time. The company remains willing to resume discussions when notified by the NMB that TWU 556 is ready and willing to engage in further meaningful negotiations.

Union comment: The union believes the company used dirty tactics by releasing details of the company's best offer to the flight attendants.

Response: For over 33 years, Southwest Airlines has always negotiated with our many labor unions privately at the bargaining table, not publicly in the media. However, on this occasion, throughout the course of negotiations, the TWU 556 negotiating committee chose to release selected portions of company proposals and tentatively agreed-upon contract provisions to the flight attendants and the public at large. Therefore, in order to present a complete and accurate picture of the company's proposals, it was necessary for the company to disclose all aspects of our industry leading compensation package offer. The company's preference would have been to continue negotiating in private until the company and union reached agreement on a contract both sides were willing to put out for vote by our flight attendants.

Union comment: The company claims that very few flight attendants are actually up in arms over the talks, while the union says there were 1,200 picketing on Feb. 13, thus suggesting many of the flight attendants are in agreement with union leadership.

Response: The company has expressed no opinion on the extent of flight attendant support among our 7,300 flight attendants for the current TWU 556 leadership, although actual counts of the number of people engaged in informational picketing on Feb. 13 were substantially less than the union's estimate. The company's position is simply that we have offered our flight attendants an industry-leading compensation package, and we feel their union should give them the opportunity to vote on whether or not they find it acceptable.

Union comment: The company has no business talking directly to flight attendants about its best offer.

Response: Southwest Airlines is entirely within its rights and obligations to communicate directly with our flight attendants (or any other employee group, for that matter) on any subject affecting the business of Southwest Airlines and the welfare and future security of all our employees. We have no desire or intention to usurp the authority of TWU 556. It is solely within the union's discretion to put the company's contract offer out for vote by the union membership at large. In view of the union's failure to bring a meaningful counterproposal to the table, resulting in the federal mediator declaring an indefinite recess in contract talks, the company has called upon the union to allow our flight attendants to vote on whether to accept the company's superb proposal. Our only goal is to bring these contract negotiations to a prompt conclusion so that we can reward our dedicated flight attendants with the contract and industry-leading compensation package they justly deserve.

Southwest Airlines

More From Forbes
CEO Approval Ratings 04.01.04
Here's your chance to tell 65 of America's most powerful chief executives how you think they're doing.

Southwest CEO Lands In Hot Seat 03.29.04
Poll score plummets for one of our most popular execs; could stalled union talks be the reason?

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ALL views, opinions expressed are mine ONLY and are NOT representative of those shared by Southwest Airlines Co.
Posts: 4727
Joined: Sat Dec 04, 1999 1:58 am

RE: Forbes Article On SWA And F/A Negotiations

Thu Apr 15, 2004 8:40 am

Anybody care to ask Thom how he likes the SWA version of a "strategic bargaining campaign"?

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