Members of the union representing ground workers at Southwest Airlines began an informational picket Thursday at Kansas City International Airport and 15 other airports.
The Transport Workers Union Local 555, whose members are baggage and freight handlers and do other ground operations, began distributing leaflets to passengers outside Terminal B to publicize stalled negotiations.
Union president Charles Cerf said a prime issue was that the airline proposes to replace up to 20 percent of its members with temporary or contract workers as attrition occurs. The 9,400 union members nationally are Southwest employees.
“Outsourcing work to people who only indirectly work for Southwest Airlines won’t give the same high quality of customer service that we provide,” Cerf said in a telephone interview.
A spokesman for the airline said the company would not comment on the outsourcing issue. But he said that the airline was actively participating in negotiations and that it supported its employees’ rights to express themselves.
Cerf said the union had been negotiating for a new agreement since July 2011, and many members had not received a raise since then.
“We want raises to keep up with the rising cost of living,” he said, noting that another issue involves reduced company subsidies for retiree medical care.
The company, which offers the most flights to and from KCI, reported $421 million in profits last year.
Southwest is making “every effort to reach agreement with the union,” the airline’s spokesman said, adding that it wanted to be fair and flexible, and ensure the long-term success of the company.
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