Why did Southwest flight attendants picket at Dallas Love Field Airport on Tuesday?

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Southwest Airlines flight attendants gathered outside Dallas Love Field Airport on Tuesday to protest working conditions as the airline industry continues to recover after the pandemic and contract negotiations stall.

“Our intent is to demonstrate to Southwest Airlines that our flight attendants are unified and they’re fed up,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents nearly 15,000 Southwest flight attendants.

Several airports across the country also have seen flight attendants picketing for higher wages and changes to work schedules as airlines are grappling with labor shortages and high travel demand.

“We really are tired of having to say we’re sorry to Southwest Airlines customers, and we want to make sure that we’re getting technological fixes to the issues that Southwest Airlines has experienced with technical breakdowns,” Montgomery said.

Contract negotiations have been ongoing for nearly three years, initially starting before the pandemic.

“The pace of negotiations is largely dictated by the number of contract sections open for negotiation, while both sides also agreed to pause negotiations for nearly a year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chris Perry, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines. “Southwest has proposed industry-leading wage increases and quality-of-life enhancements.”

During COVID-19 shutdowns, the airline industry faced significant layoffs. As demand for flights picked back up, Southwest hired more than 10,000 employees. Southwest has more employees today than it did during the fall of 2019.

While increased hiring may have alleviated some scheduling pressure, Montgomery listed several factors why flight attendants came out to protest during Tuesday’s informational picket. Flight attendants are not being paid to work more flights, stay late or remain on board with passengers during delays, Montgomery said.

“We need to be paid during those times,” Montgomery said. “Those are some of our most difficult times when we’re helping people with connections, and we’re not paid.”

The union president named access to a hot meal and places to rest while traveling as major factors in contract negotiations.

“We have issues with hotel reservations if we end up in a city we weren’t originally scheduled to be in. Sometimes the company has not secured hotel rooms for us, and we end up either having to scramble to get our own hotel rooms on a short layover or we end up just staying in the airport overnight,” Montgomery said. “That is not a good way to have to go to work the next day with no shower and no proper bed to rest in.”

All flight attendants participating in the picket were off duty, and Love Field Airport did not see major delays or interruptions due to the protest.

“Southwest Airlines has an award-winning culture that respects our employees and encourages them to express their opinions,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement. “Informational picketing is common during contract negotiations, and we do not anticipate any disruption in service resulting from the demonstration planned by off-duty Flight Attendants. Southwest looks forward to continuing negotiations with TWU 556 and the National Mediation Board so that we can reward our Flight Attendants and continue attracting great talent.”

TWU 556 is not the only union across the country protesting airlines. Flight attendants at Southwest and United airlines demonstrated at more than 20 airports across the U.S. and in London on Tuesday. Employees at San Francisco International Airport began striking on Monday to protest wages and staffing levels.

Beyond the airline industry, the protest speaks to a greater trend of issues with the transportation industry as rail workers continued negotiations that averted a strike earlier this month.

Montgomery, who stays in contact with leaders at other flight attendants’ unions across the country said it is an unusual time for so many airline workers to be experiencing the same issues.

“We are all experiencing difficulties at airlines,” Montgomery said. “We’re all having issues with fatigue and issues with chaotic scheduling and technological issues.