Turbulence Looms as Southwest Airlines Union Denies Certification for Flight Attendants’ Votes on Tentative Agreement

Turbulence Looms as Southwest Airlines Union Denies Certification for Flight Attendants’ Votes on Tentative Agreement

Guest Post by Anonymous Southwest Crew Member

An atmosphere of uncertainty has enveloped the ongoing contract negotiations of Southwest Airlines flight attendants and Transport Workers Union Local 556. Recent events have given rise to allegations of questionable tactics and a lack of transparency on the part of TWU 556’s Executive Board.

Much of the controversy lies in the aftermath of the flight attendant’s decisive rejection of a tentative agreement last week by a margin of nearly two to one. Southwest’s flight attendants have been demanding higher pay and better work rules in the new contract. The previous contract came up for renewal in 2018. This new agreement would mean a 20% raise to next year.

Detroit News reported:

For five years, Transport Workers Union Local 556, the union which represents Southwest’s over 20,000 flight attendants has been fighting for a new contract with the Dallas-based carrier. The pandemic, however, put a pause on negotiations in 2020. Flight attendants will vote on the agreement beginning Nov. 16 to Dec. 8.

For five years, Transport Workers Union Local 556, the union which represents Southwest’s over 20,000 flight attendants has been fighting for a new contract with the Dallas-based carrier. The pandemic, however, put a pause on negotiations in 2020. Flight attendants will vote on the agreement beginning Nov. 16 to Dec. 8.

Alongside the pay rate increase beginning Jan. 1, flight attendants will get 3% annual raises on Jan. 1 in 2025, 2026, 2027 and 2028, resulting in a 36% increase over the life of the contract for flight attendants at top-of-scale and up to 90% for other seniorities.

Also an “industry first,” according to Montgomery, is paid parental and maternity leave with insurance coverage. Flight attendants will also have a new reserve system, ending a 24-hour on-call period, and replacing it with three 12-hour shifts.

The problem is that for years we’ve also been asking for pay while boarding or extended ground time. Many people don’t realize that when the aircraft is on the ground, the majority of flight attendants are not getting paid.

Ironically, Delta (who is not unionized) recently became the first airline to offer paid compensation during boarding. Membership at Southwest has been vocal in asking for this as well, but it has fallen on deaf ears. This likely contributed to an overwhelming rejection of the latest tentative agreement put forth by the union.

During the holiday meltdown of 2022 flight attendants sat around for hours, many of them sleeping on floors of airports or getting hotel rooms on their own dime because crew schedulers could not be reached. Wait times of 16 hours were not uncommon when trying to get in touch with the company to secure lodging or where to fly to next.

Flight attendants and pilots are the front-line employees of an airline and, for so long, have been ignored by management when operations go haywire. Last Christmas was a perfect example of that. Anyone who worked through that debacle needs more than verbal reassurance that it will never happen again. We’ve heard that before.

The other problem is these negotiations tend to drag on for years and years-in many cases well past the “expiration date” of the signed agreement. This has become the norm. So, while figures like a 20% raise may sound significant to some, in an environment of compounding inflation year over year, many are weary of locking in a pay scale that may quickly be outpaced by our volatile economy.

Fast forward, what followed was a delayed response from TWU 556, which, almost five days later, claimed the voting process had, in fact, been compromised and they would not be able to certify the results of the election.

That email is included below:

On Tuesday, December 12, 2023, the Executive Board was made aware by the TWU Local 556 Board of Election (BOE) that the security in our voting process was compromised. 

Regrettably, the BOE has notified the Executive Board that they cannot confirm the accuracy of the results of the Tentative Agreement vote because of this issue. True Ballot, the third-party vendor responsible for administering the voting process, has acknowledged its role in the situation. The TWU Local 556 legal team is actively exploring all available options to rectify this matter.

We have full confidence in the next steps for the BOE to conduct a fair and accurate re-vote that upholds the sanctity of your votes. We are committed to keeping our Membership informed of the situation’s developments and will communicate directly with you as this situation unfolds.

You received a correspondence directly from the BOE and you will also receive correspondence from the third-party voting vendor, True Ballot. To address any questions or concerns you may have, the BOE and Executive Board will be hosting a Zoom meeting soon. Details for this meeting will be communicated to you promptly.

To be clear, your Executive Board deems it absolutely unacceptable that the integrity of our voting process was compromised. This in no way will be tolerated, and we will work diligently to resolve this matter to ensure the sanctity of the voting process.We appreciate your understanding and patience.

TWU 556

This timing, coupled with the urgency to pass the agreement, has led some to question the union’s motivations. Within the union itself, an intricate political landscape is unfolding. It should come as no surprise that in 2021 this very same union voted out a bylaw that dealt with the “recall of officers”, further cementing bad actors within TWU556. The entire TWU 556 Executive Board, up for re-election, faces heightened scrutiny over their handling of the negotiations which have been dragging on for years now.

The overwhelming rejection of the proposed contract has cast doubt on their leadership capabilities, prompting allegations that the union is using fear, uncertainty, and doubt tactics to deflect attention from their perceived shortcomings.

Flight attendants, already dissatisfied with what they view as an inadequate tentative agreement, are increasingly disillusioned, as morale at the struggling airline reaches new lows. Many are questioning whether the union, under immense pressure to secure a contract, is prioritizing political maneuvers over addressing the genuine concerns of the membership that pays their bills. Targeted character assassinations against dissenting members’ voices, as well as collusion with the company have both been proven-most recently during a lawsuit brought forth by flight attendant Charlene Carter.

She was fired by Southwest Airlines in 2017 for her religious stance on abortion. Last year, her employment was reinstated, and Charlene was awarded a 5 million dollar settlement after winning her case against both Southwest Airlines and TWU 556.

TrueBallot, the third-party vendor tasked with overseeing the recent flight attendant vote, maintains that any security issues occurred post-election and had no impact on the vote’s outcome whatsoever. Despite their assurances, flight attendants find themselves caught in the crossfire of conflicting narratives, struggling to discern the truth amid a fog of accusations and veiled threats of litigation on both sides.

As Southwest flight attendants grapple with the challenges of securing a fair contract, they now confront an additional obstacle- a union they can no longer trust. The turbulence in the skies mirrors the uncertainty on the ground, as flight attendants demand a resolution to a contract negotiation that has been dragging on since 2018.

Thursday night, TrueBallot doubled down on their claims that the election was not compromised, and the decertification of the vote is completely unwarranted.

Their statement is included below:

In an age where misinformation and disinformation are prevalent, it is difficult to differentiate fact from hyperbole. We understand that there is certain misinformation being spread by other members that we will attempt to correct. We do not intend to email you again.

1. The Contract ratification was secure and accurate. The numbers are what they were as we presented. We have the data.

2. The data intrusion that occurred was enabled at the RESULTS presentation, AFTER the election was completed. It did not and could not have affected the election. We believe know when and where this occurred (IP address)

3. The data intrusion was able to see and copy your name, email address and whether or not you voted. (90+% of you did). It did not and could not reveal how you voted.

Following the results presentation, we were made aware that someone had gained access to the results page through the URL shown at the results presentation, and voter list. They were able to copy that list. We were asked the specific question by the Board of Elections, whether or not a voter’s vote could be determined from that that access. We told the BOE that the how someone voted could NOT be determined, and that names and emails addresses could be copied but not changed. The election was OVER.

The following day, the BOE asked us to send an email to the membership. We agreed and sent drafts of yesterday’s email, but we never heard back from them regarding their approval. After hearing from several of you, we sent yesterday’s email without approval from the BOE.

We NEVER spoke wth or otherwise had any communication With the Executive Board or anyone claiming to be a member of the Board. Any representation to the contrary is False.

We have the data. We know who voted and when. We know how the results proceeded, and we know how they concluded. 

The voting pattern and ratio of Yes/No did not change throughout the process. The result is that the referendum was rejected by nearly 2 To 1.

We immediately patched the revealed security hole so that the subject page (and similar pages) could not be accessed without going through a password Protected login. Had the Executive Board or the BOE requested, we would have and could have run the same referendum the next day, without any cost. They did not ask or suggest. 

We are now aware of the video by the Executive Board, which makes certain factual representations that are simply Not True. They impugn both our competence And integrity. We are not sure why chose the path they did, rather than have us to run it again.

We provide and have provided a service to labor for nearly 3 decades. Our mission involves the empowerment of labor unions and the ability to effectively govern themselves. We have conducted on the order of 3,000 elections over nearly 29 years. Not every election has been without obstacles, but we have always done our best to conduct them and ourselves honestly and ethically. No election conducted by TrueBallot has been overturned for actions taken by TrueBallot. We have no interest in a fight and wish no harm to any union, including TWU 556.

It is for the membership to make decisions regarding matters of contract and leadership. We simply provide the means.

As an aside, I fly SWA regularly. The flight attendants are where the ‘rubber meets the road’. I/we have profound respect for who you are and what you do.

As of yesterday, our union has now filed a cease and desist against TrueBallot. They’re doubling down on the “re-vote.”

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Author: Guest Contributor