Skift Take

When you make your baggage handlers central to your advertising campaign you need to be ready for them to take a stand when they see their power being weakened.

Union representatives say Southwest Airlines customers would receive second-class service if the company — the busiest air carrier at McCarran International Airport — hires outsourced labor to supplement its workforce.

Members of the Transport Workers Union Local 555 distributed leaflets on Southwest’s proposal to outsource work Thursday near McCarran’s Terminal 1 baggage claim area and asked customers to complain to the company.

“Quite simply, they (customers) aren’t going to receive the legendary service Southwest normally provides,” said TWU Local President Charles Cerf.

Southwest later issued a statement on the campaign.

“Informational picketing is often part of the negotiating process,” the statement said. “We have always supported, and will continue to support, our employees’ right to express themselves.

“Southwest continues to actively participate in negotiations to make every effort to reach agreements with our unions that are rewarding, flexible and secure; ones that provide wage and benefit levels that are fair to employees, allow Southwest to be competitive and ensure our long-term success,” the statement said.

Las Vegas was one of 16 cities at which union members distributed leaflets to arriving Southwest passengers.

Cerf said there are about 9,500 Southwest union members nationwide with about 650 union ramp agents, operations agents and baggage handlers in Las Vegas.

Cerf said outsourced employees tend to be “low-paid, fly-by-night” workers who don’t perform as well or are as punctual as career employees.

Adam Ah Quin, a Southwest operations agent in Las Vegas who is on the union negotiating committee, said 14 union representatives distributed about 400 fliers in about four hours Thursday.

“The general reaction we got from people was surprise,” Ah Quin said. “They couldn’t believe Southwest Airlines would even consider changing a scheme that has worked so well for the past 40 years.”

He said about half of the people he talked with said they would call Southwest to voice their concerns.

The TWU has been negotiating a contract with Southwest since July 2011. The two sides hit an impasse in September 2012.

Southwest wants the flexibility to hire temporary workers for up to 20 percent of its positions as a cost-cutting measure. Company officials have said other airlines have used a similar strategy and they made the proposal in the new contract to stay competitive.

The two sides expect to return to the bargaining table at the end of April.

(c)2013 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Tags: baggage, labor, southwest airlines

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