Where is the Old Southwest Airlines?

Where has the “old” Southwest gone?

Southwest Airline’s Ramp agents have been without a contract for four years.  I was reminded of this by an image posted on Facebook of a group of rampers (as they are known within the company) proudly boycotting an Employee Appreciation Day in protest over the lack of a contract.

Why should this matter to anyone outside of the company?  Let me explain.

Southwest Airlines became a legendary company through the hard work, dedication, and commitment to excellence of it’s employees.  Everyone from the comedic routines of the flight crew, the care and kindness of the customer service agents and operations agents, to the dedication of mechanics and other support staff all made Southwest successful.

Somewhere along the way, those in management have lost sight of that.

Four years without a contract is criminal.

Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder and original CEO, built the Southwest brand. He was proud of the fact he did it with an organization that was 85% unionized.  Kelleher understood the protections of a union were important to the overall satisfaction of the members.

Kelleher recognized that management changes were inevitable and other CEO’s might take a different approach to employees.  Unions insure fair and equitable treatment for their members.

These unions made the company successful.

I find it interesting that with the decline in union membership nationwide, the disparity between those in the lower economic range and the highest has grown exponentially.

CEOs and upper management salaries far outstrip those of labor, perhaps due in part to this decline of unionized representation.

I do not begrudge Gary Kelly, Southwest’s CEO, his salary.  I just do not understand why he has abandoned the philosophy that made Southwest the success that it is, people.  Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers.

Do not put profits before people.  Southwest has made record profits.  Invest in those that made you successful.

I am not saying the union is blameless in this.  I worked for Southwest for several years. I know understanding the language of the contract can be frustrating. That is what negotiation is about.  The language was negotiated in, change it through the same process.

I also know some union members spend more time trying to figure out how not to work, or gaming the system, exploiting the contract language, than doing the job.  However, it is a small minority of the workforce.

The process of negotiation has to be fair and open; in this case, the company holds all the cards.  They have taken the approach of waiting the union out, at the expense of the very people that made the company successful.

Here is a little perspective. The next time you fly on Southwest watch the ground crew.

There is more to what they do then load bags.

A ramp agent has to plan the weight distribution and the off-loading order of the bags.  They are not randomly put aboard; there is a method to it.

But here’s the thing to really pay attention to.  Something most people do not know.

Everyone has seen the First Officer (commonly known as the co-pilot) checking the outside of the aircraft.  They do that whenever they begin their day, or change aircraft.

There is one person responsible for inspecting every aircraft just before pushing back from the gate.

A ramp agent.

They are the last set of eyes that checks the outside of the aircraft before pushing off the gate.

Think about that.

The lead agent, the one everyone thinks is just loading bags, is the last set of eyes that checks the outside of that aircraft before every flight.

The lead agent then operates the vehicle that pushes that aircraft worth tens of millions of dollars, holding up to 175 passengers and 6 crewmembers off the gate. I’ve done it, it is no easy task.

Yet Southwest thinks it is okay to leave them without a contract for 4 years.  That says a lot about the value they put on people.

Where did the old Southwest go?

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