By a slim margin of 75 votes, Southwest Airlines ground workers approved a new contract that includes pay raises of more than 20 percent over the five-year deal.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents about 12,000 ramp, operations and cargo agents, said 50.4 percent, or 4,703 votes, were cast in favor of the contract while 49.6 percent, or 4,628 votes were against the agreement, which lasts until 2021.
“While we had reached agreement on significant improvements in compensation, there were still unresolved issues important to our members related primarily to working conditions,” said TWU Local 555 President Greg Puriski. “This was a hard vote for many of our members, and this explains the close results.”
The union and Southwest management had been in contract negotiations for 4 1/2 years and entered federal mediation in 2012. Workers held several informational pickets about the lack of progress in contract talks, including at Dallas Love Field.
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Tensions rose between the union and management last fall when Southwest suspended 100 ground workers, saying they used personal time off to take part in an illegal work stoppage. The union refuted the allegations and raised more than $100,000 to support the workers, who had suspensions without pay ranging from 45 to 90 days.
Southwest said the new contract improves work rules that enhance the Dallas-based carrier’s competitiveness in the industry.
“We’ve looked forward to being able to properly recognize the efforts of our ramp, operations, provisioning and cargo agents,” Southwest chief operating officer, Mike Van de Ven, said in statement. “This agreement gives us that opportunity — it allows us to reward them and demonstrates the support we offer our people.”
Southwest remains in negotiations with other labor groups. Both its pilots and flight attendants rejected tentative contract agreements last year.