May 28, 2003, 11:57PM

Dow Chemical workers end strike


More than 1,000 workers at Dow Chemical Co.'s plant in Freeport will return to their jobs after accepting the company's latest offer Wednesday.

In a 510-to-286 vote, operators at Dow's largest chemical plant agreed to a contract offer that will set up a joint labor-management committee to determine how workers are chosen for job assignments.

The company wanted to eliminate the long-standing system of seniority to determine job assignments.

That upset workers so much that they struck May 20.

Union members also retained the right to strike in sympathy with other unions at the plant. The company had wanted to do away with that provision.

During the strike, about 200 sympathetic machinists and pipefitters walked out with the operators.

Dow will call workers back within the next three days.

"I'm glad it's all over. We've done a good job, and membership stood up against the Dow Chemical Co., a big economic tyrant, and fought them ... It's not the best contract in the world, but we still have a union," said Charlie Singletary, business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 564.

Dow spokesman Jan Huisman said: "We are very pleased with the outcome of the vote. Throughout our contract negotiations, both the union and the company have been focused on making Texas Operations a better place for our employees. We believe this new eight-year contract will now allow everyone who works at Texas Operations to benefit by moving forward together to make Texas Operations the best site in Dow."

The union had settled in for a long strike. But the company and union representatives met after union members turned down each contract offer to come up with new proposals.

Late last week, a local justice of the peace got the two sides together to broker the proposal that union members accepted Wednesday.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  May 29, 2003, 12:34AM

Briefs: Houston and state

Teamster expected to dispute allegations

Members and former employees of Teamsters Local 988 were expected to testify late into the night for a second day Wednesday about allegations of kickbacks, sweetheart deals and embezzlement at the union. A special panel sent to Houston by the union's international leadership to look into the allegations is expected to take testimony today and perhaps Friday. Chuck Crawley, Local 988's president, is expected to present his rebuttal to the allegations today. Once the hearing is finished, a recommendation from the committee about whether the International Brotherhood of Teamsters should take over operation of the union's local office will be forwarded to the Teamsters' General President James P. Hoffa for a decision.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  May 29, 2003, 9:44PM

Some see a dirty deal at Southwest Airlines


Those usually cheerful flight attendants at Southwest Airlines say they are the lowest-paid attendants in the airline industry, and they flat don't like it.

The union representing flight attendants at Southwest, the low-fare carrier long known for upbeat customer service, held a demonstration Thursday at Hobby Airport to draw attention to working conditions.

The protest by the Transport Workers Union of America Local 556 comes as the union is about to get down to negotiating pay with the Dallas-based carrier

One of the issues the union members want addressed is their desire to be paid for all the time they work.

They contend that one of the reasons Southwest's operating costs are so low is that flight attendants are used to clean the planes between flights. Most airlines use cleaning crews.

"We deserve a raise because we are the lowest-paid flight attendants in the industry," Southwest flight attendant Jill Vanderwerff of Houston said with a smile. "And we clean the aircraft for free."

Southwest said it could not address specific issues that are under negotiation.

But spokeswoman Angela Vargo said the carrier plans to take care of its flight attendants when the time comes for the contract to be finalized.

Southwest is working with the flight attendants on a contract that rewards them for their "outstanding service" while enabling the carrier to be financially stable and profitable, she said.

"We believe our flight attendants are truly the best in the industry, and our goal is to offer them a contract that recognizes their contributions," Vargo said.

Vanderwerff recounted how she and a friend left now-defunct TWA at the same time about 11 years ago, and the friend went to United and she went to Southwest.

At one point her friend was making twice as much, she said.

"There is a happy medium in there," Vanderwerff said. "And that is what we are fighting for."

The lower wages have made Southwest a more secure place to work. Southwest is one of the few large U.S. airlines to remain profitable during the past two years.

Unlike major hub-and-spoke airlines, Southwest flies point-to-point and does not have international service.

United, whose contracts were among the richest in the business, was forced to file for bankruptcy protection last year.

Experts say the high labor contracts that were negotiated by employees, who have 55 percent ownership of the carrier, played a significant role.

Southwest's flight attendants say, however, that they are not making unreasonable demands. They also maintain they are trying to "protect the famous Southwest culture."

Ami Klingsporn, who lives in Oklahoma City but works out of Houston, noted that Southwest flight attendants can sometimes work seven or eight flights during a day.

Not only do they clean the planes, they also help make sure travelers' needs are tended to in the air and on the ground, she said. Yet they only get paid when the aircraft doors close.

"We are legendary for customer service," she said, but "it makes for very long and tiring days."

Of Southwest's 7,300 flight attendants, 917 are based at Hobby Airport.

Some passengers boarding or getting off Southwest flights Thursday seemed sympathetic to the flight attendants. The union members were handing out literature sporting the theme "It's About Time," along with candy watches.

The median pay for Southwest flight attendants is about $24,600, according to flight attendant Kevin Onstead, an Oakland-based employee who once worked as a certified public accountant. That is about 20 percent lower than the industry as a whole, he said.

The starting salary for a Southwest flight attendant is $14,083, said Onstead, who also is a negotiator for the flight attendants union.

Houstonian Thom McDaniel, president of the union, said the flight attendants just want to be paid for their time and effort.

"We have no qualms about working hard, cleaning the plane and taking on other tasks," he said. "However, we deserve to be paid for the work we do, and right now we are only compensated for our time when the plane is in the air."


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle