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Southwest Airlines Ground Crew Union Protests at Pittsburgh International Airport

Members of Transport Workers Union of America’s Local 555 picketed Southwest Airlines at the Pittsburgh International Airport Tuesday, distributing flyers and holding signs as part of a larger protest involving 15 airports.

The union of grounds crew workers including ramp, operations and freight agents is in mediation with Southwest Airlines since the contract became amendable in June 2011. Under the Railway Labor Act, airline labor agreements do not expire, rather, they become amendable. Until the amendments are agreed upon, the previous contract is upheld.

Dan Hilton, a ramp agent at the Pittsburgh airport and union representative, said employees weren’t there to bash the company, but to add pressure for an updated contract and keeping customer service as a priority. Union leadership says the airline mismanages flight schedules, adding stress to operations.  

“We believe the company is now putting profits before people. That used to be the old Southwest where you know employees were number one and they also took care of internal customers, which were us,” he said.

Southwest representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Southwest has offered two free checked bags per customer since February 2013, which has made timely performance difficult, Hilton said.

“You’re increasing your bag numbers but you’re not staffing enough people to handle the baggage load which causes a time crunch. It’s hard to handle. You know, if you’re doing a job with two people, it’s hard to get all those bags,” he said.

Union members handed out leaflets and talked to people at the airport about their requests from the airline.

“We’re only allowed to have five people at a time [picketing], but we have over about 50 people signed up out of about 80 people in our ground workforce. We’re just scheduling people to come in before their shift, after their shift, even on their day off to show some support,” he said.

Southwest Airlines is the fourth largest and fourth most profitable airline in the country. Hilton said the union wants to ensure employees are compensated as Southwest grows.

“Our employees, we work hard. I hope a lot of people understand where we’re coming from, because I believe that the way things are going, a lot of people are feeling the pain. Companies are making a lot of money, everything’s going up, cost of living’s going up but middle class families, hardworking people aren’t seeing that put into their pockets,” he said.