What Southwest Airlines’ New Customer Service Employee Agreement Means

Southwest Airlines announced on March 28 that it had reached a tentative, four-year agreement with around 7000 customer service employees working in roles to support Southwest passengers on the ground.

The agreement was brokered with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), the union representing customer representatives, service agents, and source of support representatives at Southwest.

This group of employees supports customers changing their travel plans or other inquiries by phone or assisting them and their fellow Southwest employees on the ground at the airports.

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In 2019 Southwest carried 134.1 million passengers with a load factor of 84%, operating more than 4000 flights per day during the peak travel seasons, with around 120 destinations in the US and other countries.


Boeing 737 MAX, Deliveries, Recertification

Southwest plans to deploy its new 737 MAX deliveries to help restore the carrier’s pre-crisis network depth and schedules. Photo: Getty Images

According to planespotters.net, Southwest has a fleet of 731 Boeing 737s, including 69 737 MAX 8, with 18 737 MAX 8 and 9 737 MAX 7 on order.

Southwest is happy with this outcome

With more than 56,000 employees, reaching labor agreements has not always been a particularly harmonious process for Southwest. However, on this one VP Labor Relations, Adam Carlisle is clearly happy with the outcome,

“This agreement rewards our hardworking customer service employees, who have certainly demonstrated their dedication to Southwest as they have continued to assist our customers throughout the pandemic. We appreciate the dedication and fortitude demonstrated by both Negotiating Committees as we worked to reach this agreement.”

Before the pandemic Southwest, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2021, recorded 47 years of unbroken profitability, from 1973 to 2019. On its employee policies, the airline claims an unprecedented record of no involuntary furloughs or layoffs in its history.


SOUTHWEST GETTY

With 47 years of unbroken profitability, Southwest has good reason to be a loyal Boeing 737 customer. Photo: Getty Images

The union is happy too but members yet to vote

The IAM-represented workers will be voting on the agreement, which the union says provides better mandatory overtime rules and creates a better quality of life for members. Indicating its acceptance, the IAM says it will be recommending a “yes” vote to members.

IAM District President and Directing General Chair John M. Coveny Jr said:

“I want to thank every member who has stood strong and made their voices heard through surveys during this process. We have listened to the needs of our membership and are extremely proud of this tentative agreement with Southwest Airlines.”

The full version of the tentative agreement will now be provided to members. Before the vote, the union will hold informational meetings when the voting locations and dates are confirmed.

In February, Southwest also reached a tentative agreement on new contracts for more than 400 Dispatch employees. The union involved, Transport Workers Union Local 550, which President Larry Merchant described as:

“It has been a long three years of negotiating with COVID-19 bringing a whole new set of challenges to the essential workers of TWU 550 and Southwest Airlines.”

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) publishes statistics on US airline employment data, which show a surprising degree of stability during the acute COVID years from 2019 to 2022.

In December 2019, there were 749,490 people employed in the US airline, dropping to 690,000 in 2020 before rebounding to 730,000 in December 2021.

In January, the industry employed 733,491 or 98% of pre-COVID employment levels and is now actively recruiting across most airline and airport roles.

Competition for skilled and experienced workers is fierce, so was this was a big part of Southwest’s thinking when striking these new agreements?


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