A Look at Our Past.

By Chris Pratt – STL                                           

For those that weren’t here, don’t know or can’t remember; this is a short history lesson on how we came to be and how much things have changed over the last twenty years.

Our charter is dated November 1, 1996. That is when we officially became recognized as Local 555 of the Transport Workers Union. Prior to that date there were a few attempts at organization by other unions. In the early 1980’s the International Association of Machinists had gotten the right to represent our members but was challenged by the Teamsters union in that election. For that reason there was another vote and neither group received enough to be the representing body and as a result the IAM was decertified and there was no representation for ground operations at all.

From this came an agreement between the work force and the company that established the work rules for our classifications. The catch was that its interpretation was left solely to the director of ground operations. Basically, what he determined became law. The pay at that time left something to be desired. There was an “A” and a “B” pay scale depending upon when you were hired. Starting pay in the “B” scale was $6.25 an hour in ramp and provisioning. The “A” scalers made almost $3.00 an hour more. The years to top out were also different. Ten years for the “A” scale, 15 for the “B” scale. One thing everyone had in common was vacation time. Everybody got some. Naturally it was different based on years of service but the amount of weeks based on years has never changed. There was no grievance procedure to speak of. There was a system by which an employee with a complaint could file it in writing with a supervisor, a manager, and if needed, appeal it to a department head. From there it could go to arbitration.

By 1990 an in house organization had been formed to represent the members. The Ramp Operations Provisioning Association (ROPA) negotiated a contract with the company that did away with the two separate pay scales and increased the top out pay by $3.29 an hour. Along with the change in pay the first ROPA contract also gave us DAT’s that everyone is so fond of. The most important change to that agreement was the introduction of a real grievance procedure that provides us with a not only a voice when we feel our contractual rights have been walked on, but also access to system boards of adjustment where our complaints can be examined and judged fairly.

In 1993 the International Brotherhood of Teamsters petitioned the national mediation board for an election to represent SWA ground operations workers. An election was held immediately and ROPA won the right to remain the representing body.

When the second ROPA contract rolled out the starting pay had gone up yet again. It was $7.25 an hour for operations and freight and the top out had been brought down from 17 steps to 14 with 15 years of service. The amount of accruable sick leave had jumped to 185 days from the previous 170 in the first ROPA contract. Things were definitely heading in the right direction.

After this contract was ratified, ROPA recognized that big union support was needed. Impressed with the way the Transport Workers Union had worked with SWA flight attendants, they lobbied the TWU and voted them the representing organization in the fall of 1996.

When the first TWU backed contract was ratified in 2001 the starting pay had reached $8.60 on the ramp. The top out had come down to 11 steps and the pay had shot up to $24.00 an hour. We now lead the industry. We have added earned award days that hadn’t existed before and our 401K plan is one of the best around including corporations outside of the airline industry.

There is a saying; we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We felt it was important that everyone be reminded of what was accomplished by those people for the rest of us. If you know one of them, and my guess is that most of us do, you may want to take the opportunity to say thanks.