Southwest Airline pilots take to picket lines

Why airline profits are good for everyone
Why airline profits are good for everyone

Airline pilots are taking their demands for higher wages straight to airline passengers.

Pilots at Southwest Airlines picketed at the airline's hub at Love Field in Dallas on Wednesday. The pilots are not on strike, but they're trying to draw attention to their demands for better contracts and the slow pace of negotiations. Pilots at Southwest have been in mediated talks with the airline for two years following two years of standard negotiations.

"During that time, executives have enjoyed nearly 50% in average raises, and shareholders have enjoyed nearly $6 billion in stock buybacks while Southwest pilot wages have been stagnant since 2011 and are well behind industry standard wages," said the union.

The union says average pay for its 8,400 captains and first officers at Southwest is about $180,000 a year. It is seeking pay raises totaling 32% through 2019, but it says part of that is to cover retroactive pay hikes back to 2012, when its last contract became open.

"We're not trying to kill the golden the goose," union president Jon Weaks told CNNMoney. "We just want a market rate contract."

Earlier this month, after a computer glitch grounded Southwest flights and caused more than 1,000 flights to be canceled, the pilots and three other major unions at the airline joined together to issue a call to replace top management at Southwest.

"This is about more than just one failure in the operation or a contract," said Weaks. "This is about the reputation of the company we love. After years of operational failures and a degradation of our culture that risks slowly eroding our loyal customer base, we must speak up and be catalysts for change."

The Southwest pickets follow picket lines at eight airports earlier this summer by pilots at Delta Air Lines. Delta pilots are due to be back on the picket lines Friday at Delta's headquarters in Atlanta. The pilots are seeking 37% pay hikes over the next three years.

"All other employees, shareholders and investors have benefited from Delta's success. Now it is the Delta pilots' time," said the union's statement.

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Pilots in much of the industry made deep contract concessions during bankruptcies across much of the industry during last decade, although Southwest was one carrier that avoided a trip to bankruptcy or pay cuts for pilots. The pilots point to strong profits that full planes and low fuel prices have produced for airlines in recent years. 2015 was a record year for airline profits.

But the airlines argue that increasing competition have resulted in the typical airfare across the industry falling. They also say the carriers need to reinvest in the airlines, buying new planes and fixing their balanced sheets.

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Still the airlines say they're committed to improving wages for their employees. Southwest said the pilots need to work through the areas of disagreements at the negotiating table rather than in public.

"We sincerely appreciate everything our pilots do for our customers and company," said Southwest's statement. "We have offered the union negotiators a competitive proposal that considers current market conditions and provides generous compensation and retirement enhancements."

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