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Southwest Airlines raises its minimum wage to $15 an hour

Southwest Airlines plans to raise minimum pay to $15 an hour for about 7,000 employees, citing the need to attract and keep workers as the airline industry continues to recover from the pandemic.

Southwest said Friday that it intends for the raises to take effect on Aug. 1. The airline said that raises for some of the workers will require negotiations with labor unions.

"Southwest continually works to attract and retain the best candidates for open positions," said spokesman Brad Hawkins. "As part of this ongoing effort, Southwest is increasing minimum pay rates so that all hourly employees will make at least $15 per hour."

Southwest's announcement comes as air travel picks up at the beginning of the summer vacation season after the pandemic turned last year's peak season into a disaster. The number of people going through security checkpoints at U.S. airports has topped 2 million seven times in the past two weeks, hitting levels not seen since early March 2020.

However, domestic travel this month is still running 27% below June 2019, according to figures from the Transportation Security Administration.

Dallas-based Southwest carries more passengers within the United States than any other airline and is less dependent than rivals American, Delta and United on business travel, which is still in a deep slump. Those factors have helped Southwest fare better than other airlines this year — it turned a small profit in the first quarter, thanks to federal pandemic relief, after losing $3 billion in 2020.

Employment in America: A Shifting Workforce 56:57

News of the pay raises was reported earlier by Bloomberg.

Southwest has about 56,000 employees, down from about 61,000 a year earlier, according to a regulatory filing. The company announced Wednesday that longtime CEO Gary Kelly will step down next February and be succeeded by Robert Jordan, the airline's executive vice president of corporate services.

Other large companies have recently lifted their wages as employers compete to hire workers. Chipotle Mexican Grill in May hiked its average hourly pay to $15 for its 100,000 workers in 2,800 restaurants.

Currently, 29 states and Washington, D.C., have minimum wages above the federal minimum. The federal minimum wage has stayed at $7.25 an hour for more than a decade, but some large employers also have have raised their pay in recent years amid the Fight for $15 campaign that began with protests by fast-food workers in 2012. 

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