Southwest Bag Handlers Narrowly Approve Deal for Higher Pay

  • Contract gives members raises of more than 20% over five years
  • Union covers members who load bags, cargo, on-board food

Southwest Airlines Co. workers who handle baggage, stock planes with food and operate airport jetways barely approved a contract that will raise pay more than 20 percent over its five-year term.

Members voted 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent in favor of the agreement, Transport Workers Union Local 555 said Friday. The contract also provides $80 million in bonus pay that will be distributed in a lump sum. The union represents more than 12,000 airport ground workers.

The vote was a rare recent labor victory for Southwest among its largest unions, after pilots and flight attendants rejected tentative agreements last year. While compensation improvements were secured, the TWU 555 board sent the agreement to its members without recommending approval or rejection because of unresolved issues primarily involving working conditions, the union said.

“This was a hard vote for many of our members, and this explains the close results,” Greg Puriski, Local 555 president, said in a statement.

The Dallas-based airline, which reported a record profit of $2.36 billion last year, is trying to reward employees while limiting spending increases for labor, its biggest cost. About 83 percent of Southwest workers belong to unions, more than at any other U.S. airline.

The TWU agreement allows Southwest “to properly recognize the efforts” of its employees, the airline said in a statement.

The lump-sum payments in the new contract will range from $509 to more than $12,700, depending on the employee’s eligible earnings between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2015.

Under the contract, the union agreed to double the amount of cargo that could be handled at freight facilities over a specified time before Southwest would have to open a new location. Negotiations on the agreement began in 2011.

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