DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines workers who load planes are protesting in Chicago over what they say is the company's plan to outsource some of their jobs.
Members of the Transport Workers Union handed out leaflets Tuesday to passengers at Chicago's Midway Airport to explain their side in contract negotiations that began last July but have resulted in little progress.
TWU Local 555 represents 8,400 Southwest employees. It says Southwest wants authority to replace up to 20 percent of them with workers provided by independent contractors.
Local President Charles Cerf said the employees have handled bigger workloads because of Southwest's policy of not charging for checked bags and that service would suffer if the airline used contract workers.
"Southwest has never been so adamant about wanting to outsource jobs and use contract workers," Cerf said.
Southwest spokesman Paul Flaningan said that Southwest "remains committed to negotiating a contract that protects job stability and benefits" of the employees "while at the same time protecting Southwest's long-term profitability." He declined to comment on specific proposals, citing ongoing negotiations.
Dallas-based Southwest carries more U.S. passengers than any airline, and Midway is the busiest airport in its system, according to the company's website.
About 82 percent of Southwest employees are represented by a union. The company is expected to begin new contract negotiations this year and next year with pilots, flight attendants, customer-service agents and other employees.
In an industry known for tense labor-management relations, Southwest's record has been more peaceful than most other airlines. The company says it has never had layoffs in its 41-year history. Including its AirTran Airways subsidiary, Southwest Airlines Co. has about 45,000 employees.