Legal Aspects of HRM Assignment
The Unit 3 Assignment covers aspects of Units 1, 2 and 3. Respond to the short answer and fill-in-the-blanks items in the Assignment Rubric below. Read the Case Study: High-Flying Labor Relations at Southwest Airlines presented in Chapter 14 of your text. Even at a time when air travel has become associated with long lines, cramped seats, and invasive security, Southwest Airlines has maintained its reputation for keeping customers happy. To accomplish this, Southwest does not merely deliver passengers from one point to the next; it also tries to keep up their spirits by hiring and motivating employees to deliver a sense of fun. Complete the questions about this case study.
Use the Template and Rubric here to complete this
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY: HIGH-FLYING LABOR RELATIONS AT SOUTHWEST AIRLINES
Even at a time when air travel has become associated with long lines, cramped seats, and invasive security, Southwest Airlines has maintained its reputation for keeping customers happy. To accomplish this, Southwest does not merely deliver passengers from one point to the next, it also tries to keep up their spirits by hiring and motivating employees to deliver a sense of fun. And it has managed to do that—and stay consistently profitable—with a unionized workforce. At the heart of this success is the company’s principle that “well-treated employees translate to well-treated customers.” The company’s stated objective for labor relationships is to develop “solid relationships” through “communication, transparency, and consistency.”
Southwest has called itself “the most unionized airline,” reporting that more than 80% of its employees are union members. The airline’s 6,000-plus pilots have been represented by the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association (SWAPA) since 1978. Its flight attendants have been represented by Local 556 of the Transport Workers Union since 1975. At the time, the company had just 54 flight attendants, and the motivating issue was to establish written work rules. Under Texas law, employees could choose whether or not to join. Only about one-third signed up until some of the members tackled what was for them a nagging problem: the required uniform of hot pants, which constantly drew unpleasant, unwanted attention. With that engaging issue to back, most of the rest of the attendants joined the union, and they successfully pushed through this fundamental change in working conditions.
Joe Harris, Southwest’s senior labor relations counsel, has represented the company in negotiations since the 1970s. He says the company’s history of constructive laborrelations is a reflection of attitudes at the top. According to Harris, Southwest’s founder, Lamar Muse, and the CEO who succeeded him, Herb Kelleher, both took the attitude that union representation was a reasonable option for employees, who “needed an effective voice,” so the company would work with them. That tone is echoed by SWAPA, which notes that before it began representing Southwest’s pilots, the pilots and management cooperatively developed work rules promoting safety and efficiency. SWAPA adds, “That cooperative spirit has continued through the negotiation of eight labor contracts.” Likewise, a historical note published by the flight attendants union says that atSouthwest, “we have some of the best working conditions in the industry.”
That attitude hardly means that unions and management see eye to eye on everything. Negotiations can be adversarial. But once a contract is in place, both sides again turn their focus to the company’s long-term well-being and the customers’ satisfaction. That shared focus can pay off for employees in practical ways. During the severe recession that began in 2008, the company avoided layoffs, and by 2010, it was actually hiring.
Southwest’s latest labor relations challenge will follow its acquisition of AirTran Airways. With employees at both companies coming from different unions, the parties have to agree on who will represent the employees of the combined company and what level of seniority each employee will have relative to the others. In terms of flight attendants, for example, 10,000 Southwest employees are represented by the Transport Workers Union, while 2,400 AirTran employees are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants. Expectations are that with Southwest being the larger, acquiring business, the TWU will represent all the flight attendants, and that AirTran’s wages and benefits will be increased to match those of the relatively generous Southwest.
Contrast the general labor relations goals of South-west’s management, its employees’ unions, and the society in which it operates. Where are those goals in conflict, and where are they consistent?
Would you say that Southwest’s labor relations help promote the company’s sustainability (ability to make a profit without sacrificing the resources of its employees, community, and environment)? Why or why not?
What advice would you give Southwest for its labor relations following the acquisition of AirTran?
SOURCES: Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association, home page, http://www.swapa.org, accessed May 3, 2012; Mary (Ravella) Longobardi, “The History of Our Union,” TWU Local 556, http://twu556.org, accessed May 3, 2012;Southwest Airlines, 2010 Southwest Airlines One Report, http://www.southwestonereport.com, accessed May 3, 2012; Susan Carey, “Southwest, AirTran Unions Agree on Seniority,” The Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2011,http://online.wsj.com; Alison Beard and Richard Hornik, “It’s Hard to Be Good,” Harvard Business Review, November 2011, pp. 88–96; Will McDonald, “The Secret to Southwest’s Success? Putting Workers First,”American Rights at Work, June 13, 2011,http://www.americanrightsatwork.org.
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