Cars passing by honked their horns Tuesday morning and some drivers shouted out in encouragement as two major airline flight attendant groups held informational pickets at Harry Reid International Airport.
Union members from Southwest Airlines and United Airlines picketed outside of the airport to draw attention to their concerns. Airlines have been dogged by understaffing causing hundreds of flight delays that have not only frustrated flight crews but have also aggravated travelers.
Members of Transportation Workers Union Local 556, the union of more than 18,000 Southwest flight attendants, were picketing to demand a new contract offering better pay, safety on the job and improved quality of life. The union has been in a contract dispute with Southwest management for nearly four years.
About 150 off-duty flight attendants — with some pilots there for support — called attention to their dispute with members taking turns walking with signs in 40-person groups, the maximum permitted by airport officials, at the north end of ticket counters at Terminal 1.
Kristen Loucks, board member at large for TWU Local 556 and a Las Vegas-based flight attendant, wants the company to “make it right.”
“Never before in the history of Southwest Airlines have flight attendants’ working conditions deteriorated so rapidly, crippling our quality of life, devaluing our role and creating a loss of spirit,” Loucks said. “Resolution can wait no longer.”
Pickets from Southwest carried red-and-white signs that said, “Our passengers are frustrated. So are we. Make it Right!” and “End 24-hour on-call. Safety First. Make it Right!”
Loucks said many of the problems for Southwest could be solved if the airline invested in technology. She said the company has gone from caring primarily about employees to one that cares more about shareholders.
Southwest said in an emailed statement: “Southwest Airlines has an award-winning culture that respects our employees and encourages them to express their opinions. 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 (Labor) Mediation Board so that we can reward our flight attendants and continue attracting great talent.”
While Southwest employees started their picket 10 a.m., about two hours earlier 40 flight attendants with United’s Association of Flight Attendants-CWA picketed in front of gates at Terminal 3.
The group was sending a message to United management that it wanted the airline to fix operational issues before the start of the busy holiday travel period.
“Today went well,” United AFA Local President Bill Carico said. “The United flight attendants were picketing to tell United to fix their operational issues. Not only are we frustrated, but so are our passengers. This summer has been the worst it’s ever been. Crew schedulers, the flight attendant support team, even catering have faced shortages in manpower. If a flight is canceled, the flight attendants have to call crew scheduling. Hold times ranged from three to five hours. As we sat on hold, the passengers sat at the gate waiting for the crews. Crews that never showed up.”
Carico said since May, labor shortages among the flight attendant support team, catering and others have resulted in 67,485 flight delays and 6,780 cancellations.
“The union gave the company a list of solutions, but the company doesn’t feel they have a problem,” he said. “They blame flight crews, the air traffic controllers and the government. They need to realize they are the ones running the company. Fix your problems.”
Carico explained the union is not picketing for a contract, money or benefits.
“We were trying to get United to fix their problems not only for employees but mostly for our customers,” he said.
A United representative said late Tuesday that the company is working to resolve problems.
“We’ve worked hard to reduce wait times for flight attendants to talk to a crew scheduler, including more hiring and adding digital options for some items,” the company said in an emailed statement.