updated 5/28/2004 9:01:15 AM ET 2004-05-28T13:01:15

Southwest Airlines is offering employees cash and other perks if they quit to help the carrier manage overstaffing in some jobs.

About 33,000 of the airline’s 34,000 employees are eligible for the buyout offer, which expires June 25. The deal is available to employees with at least one year on the job, but not to top executives, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

The spokeswoman, Beth Harbin, said Southwest did not have a goal for the number of jobs it hopes to cut or the savings it hopes to gain. She said the company doesn’t expect to lay off workers even if few of them accept the buyout.

Union officials said they were caught off-guard when they learned of the offer.

“We’ve got a new training class for 150 people starting on Sunday,” said Thom McDaniel, president of Transport Workers Local 556, which represents Southwest’s 7,300 flight attendants. “This was completely out of the blue.”

However, Southwest has reduced jobs in some areas recently. Last year, it closed reservation call centers in Dallas, Little Rock, Ark., and Salt Lake City, saying they were no longer needed because most passengers now buy their tickets online.

Southwest offered buyouts to 1,900 of the call center workers, and half accepted, with the rest moving to the remaining six call centers or other jobs at the airline. The company also offered buyouts to 59 marketing agents when it consolidated 25 field offices to eight.

Harbin said employees began asking about a buyout offer after they learned of the similar packages for call center workers. “That bubbled up interest,” she said.

Southwest hired many workers to deal with new security issues after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Much of the security workload was turned over to the federal government, however, and now, “We have more than adequate staffing in some areas,” Harbin said.

At the same time, Southwest — the only major U.S. carrier to remain profitable through the recession and terror attacks — plans to add 58 new jets by the end of next year, and officials say each one means an extra 10 pilots and 15 flight attendants.

Southwest shares lost 3 cents, to $15.66, in trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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