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Southwest Airlines employees picket at LI airport

A Southwest Boeing 737 takes off from MacArthur

A Southwest Boeing 737 takes off from MacArthur Airport. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan, 2011

Three Southwest Airlines workers stood in driving rain outside the Long Island MacArthur Airport terminal yesterday, holding signs asking their company to do what Herb would do.

Ross Goldberg, who has worked at the town-run Ronkonkoma airport for six years, and two other Southwest ground workers and members of Transport Workers Union Local 555 picketed about noon to say that hiring temporary contract workers to save money is not how Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher would do business.

"They want to outsource our jobs, make more of us part-timers," said Michael Martinez, District 1 representative for TWU 555, who works for Southwest at LaGuardia Airport. "These are not jobs for us, these are careers. . . . Herb's other favorite motto was, 'If you take care of your employees, everything else will take care of itself.' "

Martinez said this week's informational picket, planned for Thursday and Friday at airports nationwide, was a protest of stalled contract negotiations, meant to inform passengers of the changes Southwest wants to make.

Those changes include contracting more work out to part-timers and reducing the cap on sick time employees can accrue, from 2,400 hours to 80 hours. Southwest has more than 60 ground workers at MacArthur, Martinez said.

Martinez said the "sick bank" is vital because the work of lifting cargo and airplane parts is so physical; workers are frequently injured.

"You accrue eight hours per month of sick time by not calling out sick" for the whole month, he said. "That's extremely important to our guys because of how physical our job is."

Martinez said that by outsourcing the work the company would lose quality. "We are the face of Southwest Airlines," Martinez said. "We put ourselves in our passengers' shoes -- How would we feel if our bag didn't make it? How would we feel if our bag got ripped or lost?."

Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said she couldn't comment on specifics of the contract because negotiations are ongoing. "Of course we support our employees' right to express themselves," Eichinger said. "We have talks with many unions, and as we continue these we never lose sight of the fact that our employees want the same thing that the company does."

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