NewsLocal News


Union that represents thousands of Southwest Airlines employees voices frustration to members of Congress

Southwest Airlines
Posted at 10:32 PM, Dec 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-29 00:32:49-05

DENVER — Another 2,000 Southwest Airlines flights were canceled Wednesday, including more than 300 out of Denver International Airport (DIA), in what's been a week of travel nightmares for thousands of passengers, struggling to get to their destination and retrieve their luggage.

But it's not just passengers — overworked Southwest Airlines employees are just as frustrated.

Randy Barnes, the president of TWU Local 555, a union that represents about 17,000 Southwest employees, says some crews have been forced to work 16 to 18 hour days during the debacle.

"They are requiring my members to work these extended hours. And if they get ill, they have to produce a doctor statement, even when it's so difficult to see it see a physician," Barnes said, referencing a memo Southwest sent out Dec. 21, a few days before the travel woes.

In the memo titled "State of Operational Emergency," Chris Johnson, Southwest Airlines ground operations vice president, underscored an "unusually high number of absences" from ramp employees at DIA.

"We will direct employees alleging illness to provide a doctor's note on the first day returned to work indicating when the doctor was seen and confirming that the employee was unable to work on the dates he claimed illness," the memo read.

The memo goes on to say that "failure to comply will be considered insubordination and abuse of sick leave which will result in your termination."

Barnes was contacted by members of Congress Wednesday, amid an investigation by the United States Department of Transportation.

"Their concerns are for the flying public and for the viability of the airline itself," Barnes said. "We have those same concerns. They were interested in what we were experiencing... and any idea as to what caused it and why."

In the meantime, hundreds of passengers waited for hours in a Southwest baggage claim line at DIA Wednesday as the airline's customer service agents, who are not represented by the union, struggled to address passengers on yet another day of cancellations and unclaimed baggage inquiries.

If you have been affected by the cancellations, click here for ways to go about receiving a refund.