Things With Wings

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  • Southwest Flight Attendants: It's Not Just The Pilot
    Posted by Andrew Compart 5:20 PM on Jun 24, 2011

    By now I'm assuming everyone has heard about the homophobic, misogynistic rant by a Southwest pilot that he accidentally broadcast his tirade to air traffic controllers on March 25. If not, read about it here and listen to it here. Personally, I think a person like this is probably beyond short-term rehabilitation--his attitude sounds pretty ingrained. But Southwest decided to reinstate him after a suspension (of unspecified length), some diversity training and an apology to the FAA controllers. The airline put out a statement and an apologetic video from its vp-flight operations after the rant became public and went viral.

    You may also have read by now that the union for Southwest's flight attendants, TWU Local 556, in which union local President Thom McDaniel says the attendants are "dismayed by the response from Southwest Airlines' management" and is considering filing a complaint with the federal government's Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). "We hope not to have to go that route, and instead we are counting on Southwest Airlines to remedy this injustice."

    The statement, however, leaves a lot unsaid: namely, a fuller explanation of wh the union believes Southwest management has fallen short and what else it wants management to do. So I interviewed Thom McDaniel to find out. And one of his big points of contention is that he does not like that this is being labeled an "isolated incident."

    "We do have things very much like this that have been reported, and they haven’t been addressed," he says. "We’ve had slurs made, similar statements by various employees, other work groups." Sometimes it is reported to management, but other times they keep it to themselves for fear of being labeled as "PC police," he says.

    This is not an issue exclusive to Southwest, which generally has good relations with its attendants, he says. But the airline should use the latest incident as a "teachable" moment and emphasize the company's demands for an inclusive and respectful culture in a broader way.

    “As a company we just need to make sure this incident isn’t ignored as an isolated incident," he adds. "Paying it lip service doesn't work."

    I asked McDaniel specifically if the union wants Southwest to fire the pilot, but he would not go there. That is out of his purview, since it involved a different work group than the one his union represents. But Jamie Horwitz, a media coordinator for the attendants union, pointed out that the pilot did not apologize to attendants, only to air traffic controllers.

    "He didn't apologize to the people he actually offended," Horwitz notes.

    "Generally, our relationship with management is great and we see ourselves in partrnership with them, “he adds. "But we feel really strongly they have not handled this one right.”

    There is still hope, however, for the union and management to get on the same page. When i talked to McDaniel Wednesday evening, he told me he already had started talking to management about the issue and hoped to avoid an EEOC filing.

    Tags: tw99, Southwest, pilot, attendants

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