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Southwest Mechanics Challenge Airline Publically In Contract Dispute

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – After working without a new contract for four years, nearly 300 Southwest Airlines mechanics say they've had enough.

So along with pilots, flight attendants, and other union workers who support them, they picketed at Dallas Love Field Friday.

Dale Dixon, President of AMFA Local 11 says, "We send a message to Southwest Airlines, that we're professionals, we've not had a raise in four years."

Mechanics here say money isn't the issue.  Instead, they're concerned about their jobs in the long term.

Dixon says Southwest has offered them signing bonuses and incremental raises.

But he says they're concerned the company is outsourcing more maintenance work for their older jets, which need more checks, while keeping in-house maintenance for newer jets, like the 737 Max, which will require less work.

Dixon says, right now, we do not have an idea of what the maintenance operation is going to look like.  We don't know what it's going to look like for five to ten years from now."

Southwest Airlines sent a statement saying in part, "...While we are disappointed by the lack of partnership shown by the current AMFA leaders, we remain committed to continue working with them to reach an agreement..."

Mark Drusch, a former executive with both Delta and Continental airlines, who's now a vice-president at the consulting firm ICF, says Southwest's managers must find the most efficient way to maintain their planes. "In order for Southwest Airlines labor to be competitive with outsourcing, it is about money.  It is about the rates they're going to pay their labor."

To extend their message further, the mechanics union is also airing ads on local radio stations, in which they tell customers to urge Southwest's CEO Gary Kelly to reduce outsourcing.

The FAA says any maintenance work that is outsourced and performed by uncertified mechanics, must be conducted under the supervision of and signed off by a certified mechanic.

When foreign repair facilities maintain the jets owned by airlines, the FAA inspects them to make sure that happens.

One passenger we spoke with, John Bennett says, "I don't have any concerns.  I trust Southwest.  They've been a good company."

Mechanics like Dale Dixon, who's been at Southwest for 21 years, agree and say they want the airline to continue to succeed.

Dixon says both sides will return to the bargaining table in early November.

 (©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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