Southwest Airlines Co. ground crew workers have narrowly approved a contract that stipulates an increase of 20 percent in their pay over a five-year term.
According to Transport Workers Union, union members voted with a margin of 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent for the approval of the agreement. The accord also calls for $80 million as bonus pay which will be given as a lump sum. More than 12,000 ground workers were represented by the union.
The agreement was reached after five years of talks between Southwest Airlines Co, and the union members. Approval of the contract was accomplished last Friday. It is a victory for the airline company considering that it is currently in the midst of labor strife with different employee groups within the organization.
The ground workers are in charge of baggage handling, the delivery of foods and the operation of the airport jet ways.
Although increased compensation is secured, the board of TWU 555 sent the contract to its union members without recommending approval or rejection due to unresolved issues mainly with regards to working conditions.
"This was a hard vote for many of our members, and this explains the close results," said Greg Puriski, the Local 555 president, in a statement.
Puriski maintained that the new contract has not gone far enough to address working conditions and job security, two elements that influenced the close vote.
"Southwest's long-time winning formula has largely been replaced by a structure not unlike the failed legacy carriers of the past," Puriski said.
Mike Van De Ven, the Chief Operating Officer of Southwest Airlines, lauded the contract, saying that it was a "tremendous effort" accomplished by negotiators from both the airline company and the union in agreeing to the deal.
Van De Ven did not agree with the concept that the company's much publicized corporate culture has weakened as it has grown.