The old saying on the internet is that when a title is phrased as a question the answer is always no. That doesn’t always hold, at least for United, but a major union at Southwest should have considered the implications of the maxim before spouting off.
The Transportation Workers Union, which represents flight attendants and ground workers at Southwest Airlines, is up in arms because the airline has fired 468 of their members in the last two and a half years.
- The TWU represents about 12,000 groundworkers and 15,000 flight attendants at the airline
- So they’ve dismissed 1.7% of the union’s members since January 2015
- That’s 7/10ths of 1% per year.
Southwest doesn’t appear to be taking the approach of some firms that automatically let go the bottom 10% of their workforce each year.
Instead, Southwest has dismissed only 17% of the employees who have had discliplinary actions in the past two and a half years. Put another way, most employees subject to disciplinary actions get to keep their jobs by more than a 5:1 margin.
The union calls this “outright hostility to the workforce” and claims it “has obliterated morale.”
No doubt it’s damaged the morale of employees who have been fired, although the morale of those employees may not have been strong to begin with.
Based on my own Southwest flights over the past couple of years, and experiences shared by other passengers, it doesn’t appear to be harming passenger experience as claimed. In fact the opposite may be true: Southwest’s willingness to shed employees it deems problems may well be key to maintaining the morale of the rest of their workforce.
In my experience happy motivated employees:
- Feel they are paid fairly
- Like and respect colleagues
- See themselves as a part of something bigger than themselves, on a mission
At Southwest employees see themselves on a mission – to have fun, provide a good experience on short flights, and to beat the legacy airlines United, Delta, and American.
Southwest’s creation story gives it the advantage of having been the underdog fighting to survive. Employees are in this together as friends working towards the same goal. As a result they try their hardest.
In contrast where employees who shirk or provide poor service and poor performance affects neither pay nor continued job prospects, morale suffers. The best employees become discouraged from doing their best.
Southwest Airlines is unique in that it’s the largest US airline for domestic travel, it’s unionized, and it maintains a strong culture. If Southwest capitulates and refuses to let go even 17% of employees receiving discipline, or 7/10ths of one percent of its groundworkers and flight attendants each year, they jeopardize that culture by sapping the morale of the strong performers in the company.