Southwest reaches deal with flight attendants

/ Source: The Associated Press

Southwest Airlines has reached a tentative agreement with its flight attendants’ union on a new contract, ending a 2-year stalemate, union officials said Friday.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Thom McDaniel, president of Transport Workers Union local 556, said the deal called for bigger pay raises than the company’s last offer in February, which the union’s Web site said called for a 20 percent pay increase over 6½ years.

Currently, starting pay for Southwest flight attendants is about $14,000 and median pay is $24,600, which union officials contend is less than at other airlines.

Rank-and-file members were notified of the deal Friday. The airline’s 7,400 flight attendants will vote electronically, with results expected in August.

Contract talks reached an impasse last year, and both sides asked a federal mediator to step in.

The union had argued that Southwest, as the only major U.S. airline to remain profitable through the industry downturn that began in 2001 — it earned $442 million last year — could afford to pay its workers more.

The flight attendants also argued that they were treated worse than pilots and other employees at Southwest, who have received more frequent pay raises since 1992.

TWU was also seeking stock options for flight attendants, to match a feature in recent contract with other Southwest employees. The airline offered 1,400 shares for non-probationary attendants, compared to 1,800 options for mechanics and 7,700 options for pilots.

After talks broke off in February, the union rounded up 47 members of Congress to sign a letter urging the company to return to the bargaining table.

A strike never appeared imminent — federal law makes it difficult for airline employees to walk off the job — but the flight attendants picketed at airports around the country to put pressure on Southwest.

The union also criticized chief executive James Parker when he received a raise that they said exceeded the increase Southwest offered to flight attendants.

Parker removed himself from the negotiations and was replaced by chairman and former CEO Herb Kelleher.