Southwest-AirTran Dispatcher Seniority Update

Last week an arbitrator issued his ruling on the Southwest-AirTran dispatcher seniority list integration (SLI) case. He sided with our union and awarded us four extra years of seniority when we merge our seniority lists. This decision has implications for most dispatchers at each company, some good and some bad. For those who are interested, here are some details.

Background

The SWA dispatcher seniority list, counting all specialty positions and managers, has about 200 people, compared to about 45 for AirTran. Ideally, the two unions would negotiate an SLI agreement instead of going to arbitration. The SWA and AirTran pilots already did so successfully. If I understand correctly (I wasn’t involved), since both unions are under the Transportation Workers Union (TWU) umbrella, the AirTran union thought the only acceptable way to integrate the seniority lists per TWU bylaws was by date-of-hire into the dispatch office. In other words, if you were hired at AirTran before I was hired at Southwest, you’re senior to me. Our union countered that the AirTran dispatchers would be getting a much better contract (higher pay, better benefits, etc.) and more opportunity at a larger company, and the SWA folks should get something from the merger as well. Otherwise, it would be a huge windfall for AirTran with zero direct benefit to SWA. We tried to negotiate, but the AirTran union immediately filed for binding arbitration, thinking they had a strong case based on TWU documentation. Thus the decision fell to the arbitrator. At the hearing in February, AirTran proposed date-of-hire, and SWA proposed adding four years to all SWA dispatchers’ seniority. He decided the latter was the fairer outcome.

Impact for Me

Compared to using date-of-hire, the arbitrator’s decision bumped me above six AirTran dispatchers. Now twelve of them will come in above me instead of eighteen. That’s certainly nice, but on a combined list of 200 working dispatchers, those six spots won’t make a huge difference to me right now. However, the overall impact of merging with AirTran does make a significant difference as the majority of AirTran dispatchers will come in below me on the list.

Right now, I’m at the 65th percentile among SWA dispatchers. When we bid for our schedules each summer, I can have any start time except the morning shifts, which go to the top half of the list. If all the AirTran dispatchers make the move (more on that later), and no one retires from Southwest before the merger is complete, I’ll be in the 56th percentile. So overall the merger bumps me up by about ten percent. This will make it a bit easier to get overtime and give me slightly better pick of vacation days, but for now that’s about it.

Impact for Coworkers

The integration plan will have a much bigger impact on my coworkers, especially the junior people and my new friends at AirTran. As you’ve surely figured out already, the four-year boost for our side is a huge help to the junior SWA dispatchers. Except for the group we hired last summer, all of them move up by 10-15 percent. Perhaps most significantly, about 17 of them move off reserve status, which means they can finally have a consistent, predictable schedule with a set rotation of days on and days off and a fixed start time. Reserves don’t know their schedules until about three months out and might work a combination of days, afternoons, and midnights with days off scattered throughout the month. Their schedules get especially messy and busy during the summer and around holidays. It’s a good day when you finally climb high enough in the list to get off reserve.

Unfortunately, what’s good for the SWA people is bad for the AirTran people. The majority of the AirTran dispatchers will be on reserve status. Some were off reserve status at AirTran but will get stuck with it again once they come over to Dallas. Also, because they’ll be less senior overall, they’re more likely to get afternoons and/or midnights, which might be very difficult if they’ve been on day shift at AirTran and have a family situation that requires day shift to work well. Since they’re already being forced to uproot their lives in Orlando and move halfway across the country, the seniority snub is extra salt in the wound. A few had decided to leave AirTran before the SLI decision for various reasons. It’s possible that others might decide not to make the move. I feel badly for them. They didn’t ask for their company to be bought. Now they must choose between moving to Dallas with a loss of seniority or starting over somewhere else.

Let me be very clear that I am excited about the merger for a variety of reasons. In addition to the benefits to Southwest as a company (Atlanta, international ops, more airplanes, etc.), every AirTran dispatcher I’ve encountered has been a pleasure – bright, hardworking, personable, and great to work with. If all of their dispatchers are like the ones I’ve met, they will be a tremendous asset to our company, and I look forward to meeting more of them toward the end of this year or sometime next year when they start to come over.

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