Why are the airline workers smiling?

DALLAS – Flight attendants at Southwest Airlines may keep on smiling for the passengers, but they have been through a grueling contract negotiation period that has already lasted more than 18 months. One of management’s main hopes when negotiations began was to gag the union so that they wouldn’t reach out to their many allies, said Transport Workers Union Local 556 President Thom McDaniel on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk-radio show on Dec. 3. McDaniel’s statements over the airwaves and a number of pickets and activities at airports across the nation have shown how the union views management’s demand.

McDaniel invited listeners to participate in public actions that are being planned. He indicated that TWU 556 would participate with the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions to stand up for the right to organize on Dec. 10 – International Human Rights Day.

Through all the dismal pronouncements from most airline executives since 9/11, Southwest Airlines distinguished itself by continuing its profitability. McDaniel indicated that TWU 556 members take pride in the service that they offer and the contribution they make to the viability of the airline. However, some of the conditions they have tolerated would make smiling difficult for lots of us.

McDaniel explained: New flight attendants at Southwest volunteer for four weeks of unpaid training. The fortunate ones get hired at $14,000 per year. Even though they may be on the job for many hours at a time, they only are paid when the plane is in the air. While planes wait on runways, they still take care of the passengers and clean the plane’s interior, but without pay!

When the union first began organizing in 1973, no male applicants were hired. The women were forced to wear hot pants and go-go boots to work, according to McDaniel. With pride, he recounted the success of his union in overcoming management’s blatant sexism. Today, men and women flight attendants at Southwest work with pride in attractive and decent uniforms.

Flight attendants at Southwest Airlines take their unionism seriously. In Dallas, where the company began, they are active with their AFL-CIO council. TWU 556 activist Rebekkah Kelly is past president of the council. By sticking together, members of TWU 556 have made steady progress for over 30 years. In the labor movement, they have made a lot of friends who will stand by them during their negotiation ordeal. McDaniel and his members expect to win. It helps them keep smiling.

The author can be reached at http://tx.cpusa.org.