Southwest Airlines needs to get its act together. After imposing harsh overtime and sick leave mandates on its workers, many got frostbite over the holidays. The news comes amid storm-driven nationwide flight cancellations, lost baggage, stranded passengers, and a whole lot of negative publicity.
Southwest Airlines Workers Got Frostbite While Working During Denver’s Coldest Day on Record
Business Insider first reported that union representatives for Southwest issued a statement regarding the way its employees were being treated. Randy Barnes, President of TWU Local 555 representing Southwest’s ground workers, said that employees were not getting enough support and some had suffered frostbite. They were working 16–18-hour shifts in subfreezing temperatures without being cycled in and out of the cold in a safe manner.
“Our members work hard, they’re dedicated to their jobs, but many are getting sick, and some have
experienced frostbite over the past week,” Barnes wrote. “In severe weather it’s unreasonable for workers to stay outside for extended periods… The airline needs to do more to protect its ground crews.”
Leaked Memo From Airline’s VP Mandated Overtime, Coming in While Sick
At the same time, a leaked memo from Southwest’s Vice President shows that ground workers in Denver would be required to work overtime due to staff shortages. It also threatened to fire anyone who did not work a minimum of 12-hour shifts. Additionally, employees were warned that they needed to physically see a doctor if calling in sick. This means that telemedicine visits would not suffice — a hard pill to swallow for sick employees needing a quick doctor’s note.
Some are claiming that the sick note mandate violates labor laws per the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act.
It gets much worse. The leaked memo was issued on December 21. The next day, Denver had its coldest day on record, according to the National Weather Service. Temps plummeted to a high of -6 and a low of -24 Fahrenheit. That’s without windchill, which together with the freezing temperatures can cause frostbite in a matter of minutes.
As such, Southwest Airlines ground workers were essentially forced to work overtime in subfreezing temperatures, without proper breaks to protect themselves from frostbite. Some may have even been doing so while sick.
The airline’s chaos seems to be extending to every corner of its business model at this point. While outdated computers may be an excuse for flight cancellations, that certainly doesn’t apply to the way it treats its employees.
Southwest is finding itself in a whole heap of trouble this winter. Let’s see if it can dig itself out.