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Southwest Airlines tries again for contract with aircraft cleaners including bigger raises

Sept. 9, 2022 Updated Fri., Sept. 9, 2022 at 2:06 p.m.

A Southwest Airlines plane takes off at Dallas Love Field Airport on July 25, 2022.   (Smiley N. Pool/Dallas Morning News )
A Southwest Airlines plane takes off at Dallas Love Field Airport on July 25, 2022.  (Smiley N. Pool/Dallas Morning News )
By Kyle Arnold Dallas Morning News

Southwest Airlines came to a contract deal with the 170-member union that represents workers that clean airplanes, after the workers overwhelmingly rejected a contract this summer.

The new deal with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association gives immediate 12% raises to appearance technicians with at least four years of experience and will boost starting pay to $19.14 an hour by August 2026, according to a draft of the agreement shared with members.

It’s one of several lower-profile deals that Dallas-based Southwest is trying to get squared away, although the company has struggled to find success with labor groups such as customer service workers, flight dispatchers and aircraft cleaners.

Meanwhile, pilots and flight attendants are in the midst of tense standoffs involving picketing at Dallas Love Field near corporate headquarters.

Southwest has some of the toughest standoffs with groups closer to the company’s minimum wage scale of $17 an hour, such as customer service workers and appearance technicians.

Both work groups have rejected contract proposals so far this year.

“Our appearance technicians contribute to Southwest’s success every day, and I am proud of both negotiating committees for reaching an agreement that rewards our employees for their continued hard work,” said Adam Carlisle, Vice President Labor Relations at Southwest Airlines, in a statement.

The union for aircraft cleaners said they believe this proposal addresses the shortfalls in the deal that was offered and rejected on July 1.

That deal had 6.25% raises for members.

Southwest executives have said that staffing has been one of the airlines’ biggest challenges this year.

The company has added more than 7,000 workers in 2022 and in May finally got back to pre-pandemic employment levels.

“About 75% of this hiring was in our airport operations and about 20% were in flight crews,” said Southwest President Mike Van de Ven.

“We’re going to continue hiring it’s imperative that we remain adequately staffed to support both our customers and our employees.”

Southwest has seen some of its stiffest competition for employees at the lower end of its pay scale as competing industries from retail and restaurants to hotels and customer service.

The average wage in the U.S. for non-supervisory workers has increased 8.6% in the last year after rising 12.4% the year before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the last two years, those same workers have made 22.3% in wage gains on average after seeing wages grow 26% in the previous eight years.

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