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Southwest Airlines attendants protest outside BWI Airport for better pay, working conditions

Southwest Airlines attendants protest outside BWI Airport for better pay, working conditions
Southwest Airlines attendants protest outside BWI Airport for better pay, working conditions 02:26

BALTIMORE -- Flight attendants for Southwest Airlines picketed Tuesday morning at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) in a nationwide call for a new union contract. 

The employees are members of TWU Local 556, the union of Southwest Airlines flight attendants made up of over 18,000 workers. They are demanding more pay, better health insurance, safety on the job and improved quality of life through a new contract. 

The flight attendants, off-duty but in uniform, held picket signs and chanted for change alongside supporters. 

The attendants are protesting because the union's collective bargaining agreement with the company became amendable almost four years ago, but according to the union, the airline has made "an overwhelming number of delays" in updating the agreement. 

Pay for all time worked, control over personal schedules and access to food and a safe place to rest when traveling on the job are part of their demands. The union said a lack of hot food and sometimes hotel rooms leave workers undernourished and, allegedly, sleeping on the airport floor. 

The union is also calling on the airline top provide benefits like health insurance that continues coverage when someone is injured on the job, is battling cancer or had a baby.

But while flight attendants picketed, flights went on as scheduled.

Their hours are awfully long and I do think they need better benefits," traveler Peggy said.

"You start working, you should get paid," traveler Ed added.

The union is also requesting an end to 24-hour on-call shifts and a guaranteed hotel room for flight attendants after long flights.

"It makes me feel unappreciated," said Southwest Flight Attendants Union Rep. Damion West. "We showed up during the pandemic, we worked really hard. We started this process before the pandemic and I feel like this is the opportunity for Southwest Airlines to show some appreciation for their frontline employees that work throughout a pandemic."

The picketing comes as airlines struggle to keep up with higher  demand for travel, and as tensions boil over mid-air.

Last week, a passenger attacked a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight from Mexico.

Agents arrested him once the plane landed in Las Angeles.

"Oh it's ridiculous, all the bail out the airlines get," traveler Ashley Cecil said. "Employees should definitely not have to push back on pay."

Southwest Airlines sent WJZ this 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 National Mediation Board so that we can reward our flight attendants and continue attracting great talent."

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