Southwest Airlines flight attendants picket at Oakland Airport, day after SFO food workers go on strike

Southwest Airlines flight attendants picketed outside Oakland Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.

Multiple demonstrations were held by union workers at Bay Area airports on Tuesday. At Oakland Airport, Southwest Airlines flight attendants held a picket line, as part of a nationwide labor action demanding a new contract.

Union representatives said the informational picket was designed to send a message to Southwest Airlines (SWA) that flight attendants want better pay, improved health benefits, and assurances for a safe working environment. 

The union, TWU Local 556, representing more than 15,000 Southwest flight attendants, said its members hasn't had a new contract in almost four years. 

"The Members of TWU Local 556, the Union of Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants, need change now," the union said, adding, "Never before in the history of Southwest Airlines have Flight Attendants’ working conditions deteriorated so rapidly, crippling our quality of life, devaluing our role, and creating a loss of spirit."

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Oakland-based flight attendant and union representative Josh Rosenbert was on the picket line on and said that poor working conditions have led to inadequate meal and rest opportunities. 

"Sometimes we've gotten to overnights and there haven't been hotels available for us," Rosenbert said. "We've slept on airport floors sometimes. We have trouble getting a break on the aircraft. Sometimes we'll go all day without a hot meal, because we have to be on that aircraft tending to our passengers the entire day," he added.

The labor action involved off-duty flight attendants.

In a statement, Southwest Airlines said the company encourages their employees to express their opinions. "Informational picketing is common during contract negotiations, and we do not anticipate any disruption in service resulting from the demonstration by off-duty Flight Attendants," the company said, adding, "Southwest looks forward to continuing negotiations with TWU 556 and the National Mediation Board so that we can reward our Flight Attendants and continue attracting great talent."

The demonstration at Oakland Airport was one of almost a dozen such picket lines involving SWA flight attendants at airports including Chicago’s Midway, Phoenix Sky Harbor, Las Vegas’s Harry Reid and Los Angeles International Airport. 

The labor action came as a strike at San Francisco International Airport, involving more than 1,000 restaurant employees and other food workers, moved into its second day. 

Unionized food workers strike at SFO airport. Sept. 26, 2022. 

The strike prompted an alert to travelers to bring their own food before arriving to the airport, as SFO's restaurants, bars, and cafes were shut down. 

SFO food workers have been without a contract since 2019. They're demanding better pay and benefits.

The workers were scheduled to take part in a special hearing with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the labor conflict and its operational impacts on the airport, as well as its effects on city's revenue from airport concessions sales. The board also asked SFO officials to attend the meeting.

Also at SFO, another group, United Airlines flight attendants took to the picket line on Tuesday. They marched outside the airport's Terminal 3 over staffing and other problems. 

The union representing the workers, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), called on United to resolve what it called ongoing operational problems like delayed and canceled flights, that were putting undue pressure on the airline's frontline workers.  

"United management’s failure to properly staff crew schedulers, the flight attendant support team, catering and more has exacerbated these operational issues and left passengers and Flight Attendants waiting for answers for hours at a time," the union said. 

In a statement to KTVU, United said, "We’ve worked hard to reduce wait times for flight attendants to talk to a crew scheduler, including more hiring and adding digital options for some items."

San Francisco International was one of more than a dozen airports in cities including Honolulu and London, taking part in the United flight attendants' "Day of Action."