Southwest flight attendants picket at Hartsfield-Jackson

Crew labor action follows picketing by workers at other carriers, including Delta

Off-duty Southwest Airlines flight attendants picketed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and other airports across the country on Tuesday, pushing for a new labor contract.

The informational picketing comes as the union representing the flight attendants, the Transport Workers Union Local 556, says it has been in contract negotiations for nearly four years. Labor groups at several airlines have picketed nationwide this year amid contract negotiations and strains caused by a robust rebound in passenger demand and crew shortages since the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve watched our quality of life deteriorate,” said Alison Head, who represents the Atlanta base of Southwest flight attendants on the union’s executive board. She said negotiations have made little progress toward a contract “that meets our needs.”

Southwest issued a statement Tuesday saying informational picketing is “common during contract negotiations, and we do not anticipate any disruption in service resulting from the demonstration” 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,” the company’s statement said.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Tuesday’s labor action is the latest round of airline crew picketing at the Atlanta airport, following informational picketing by Delta Air Lines pilots and flight attendants multiple times this year. Atlanta-based Delta is the largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson, while Dallas-based Southwest is the second-largest airline in Atlanta.

The flight attendants union at Southwest is seeking better pay — including pay while passengers are boarding planes, which Delta agreed to pay its flight attendants earlier this year when it extended boarding times.

Flight attendants are also seeking better contractual terms to ensure inflight crew get hotel rooms and hot meals when flights are disrupted due to technical outages or other problems.

During a technical outage earlier this year, “flight attendants were in a situation where they didn’t have hotel rooms. They were sleeping in the airport,” Head said. “The technical failures fail our passengers as well.”

The union also wants to discontinue on-call shifts that last for 24 hours, and is seeking better health insurance coverage terms, according to Head.