Denver, CO, May 15, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- As Southwest Airlines (LUV) is under fire for the 737 Max crisis and customers are bumping the airline down in satisfaction, airport workers are parodying the airline’s branding at the shareholder meeting in Denver to expose the harsh reality of inequity and safety concerns behind the airline’s façade of love and kindness. Baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners, and security officers from the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver airports will carry signs that say 'Show us some LUV: health care, fair wages, union rights' and hand out a spoof version of Southwest's infamous drink coupons that urge the public to tell CEO Gary Kelly that #PovertyDoesntFly.

"I've worked for thirteen years doing security work," said LAX employee Maria Romero. "But when Southwest Airlines switched our jobs to a company called S.A.S. Services, we lost our seniority and the stability of knowing what jobs we're being asked to do day to day. We even lost most of our health insurance. This has had a big impact on my ability to afford my prescription eye glasses, which I need to monitor security cameras. Passengers are depending on our ability to see details, so why won’t they cover us to have updated eye prescriptions?"

Behind its friendly public image, Southwest is contracting out what used to be good union jobs to companies like S.A.S. Services Group, which has been cited for nearly $1,000,000 in wage theft at LAX. In Denver, workers have called on Southwest contractor Prospect to stop requiring wheelchair attendants to fill in for other staff and handle baggage containing passengers' firearms without any hands-on safety training.

Adequate training is a serious safety issue anytime workers come into contact with firearms. Denver International Airport was fourth in the country for the most firearms found at security checkpoints in 2018. Nationwide, TSA found a record number of firearms last year and 86% of them were loaded.

"As a wheelchair attendant, I ensure the safety and mobility of passengers navigating our busy airport,” says Medina Adem. “On top of that responsibility, my coworkers and I have been forced to move oversized baggage and luggage containing firearms, jobs we were not hired to do nor trained to do. With a union, we would have a voice on the job to call for the training we need to keep Denver workers and travelers safe."

Behind the airline’s branding is a single-minded desire to further increase profit. After Flight 1380’s deadly engine failure in 2018 and two fatal crashes of the 737 Max, CEO Gary Kelly said he will purchase "hundreds" more of the aircraft. As the nation’s biggest buyer of the 737 Max, he said “We're obviously anxious to get the airplane back in service."

Not only is Southwest cutting corners on wages, benefits, and worker safety standards, it apparently values the rights of some people more than others. The airline allows 83% of its employees the right to a union, but is standing in the way of the primarily people of color and immigrants who carry our luggage, push people in wheelchairs, and secure safety checkpoints who are fighting for that same right.

The airline’s forgotten workers, buried under layers of subcontracting, helped generate Southwest’s $2.5 billion in profit last year. Southwest could not operate without these critical staff in California, where 60 percent of its growth came from last year, and Denver, which is one of the airline’s largest operations.

Southwest depends on millions in taxpayer dollars to run operations, taking more than $41 million from taxpayers in 2017 alone through California’s State Travel Program, a discount travel program used by California government. Southwest gets the majority of business from this program, but this arrangement could be at risk. Recognizing that public funding comes with public responsibility, lawmakers across California are calling on the airline to deliver a living wage, employer paid family health care, and the right to form a union for everyone who makes Southwest’s success possible—no exceptions.

"It’s not acceptable for any amount of public money, let alone millions of taxpayer dollars—to be used in any way that drives down worker standards, costs employees their healthcare, pushes workers beyond their reasonable limits and increases turnover at the airport," said California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo. "We know the companies that benefit from the California Travel Program—including Southwest Airlines—can do better."

At LAX, airport workers won a mandate through the Los Angeles airport living wage ordinance that requires airlines and contractors to allow workers time on the job to receive emergency response training needed to be part of a comprehensive, “whole community” approach to maintaining safety. The program has helped reduce turnover and improve airport security. Airport workers and elected leaders are urging Southwest to do everything it can to support and expand on these efforts.

Contracted airport workers around the country are coming together in Airport Workers United to raise their voices for at least $15 an hour and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities. By sticking together, speaking out, and going on strike 30,000 airport workers have joined SEIU and 126,000 have won raises or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave, and job protections.###

Leslie Mendoza Kamstra