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DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines has suspended more than 100 ground workers who it says skipped work without permission to attended union meetings in California and Florida last month.
The Transportation Workers Union Local 555 billed the meetings as a "strike preparation summit." The union said on its website it is appealing the suspensions, which range from 45 to 90 days.
Relations between Southwest and Local 555 have been strained as negotiations on a new contract have dragged on. The employees protest that even though Southwest is earning record profits, they have not received a raise since their last contract came up for renegotiation more than three years ago.
Last month, Southwest filed a lawsuit against the union, saying that it believed workers were planning an illegal strike over the busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Southwest spokesman Bob Hughes said Friday that employees can take personal time off unless the company declares an emergency, which he said it did before the November meetings. He said employees who missed work were interviewed, and those who couldn't show a valid reason for their absence were suspended.
Hughes said the airline had to shuffle workers to fill shortages at some Southern California airports and flights might have been delayed but none were cancelled due to the absences.
Union officials did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. On its website, the union said some of those who were suspended were among more than 350 people who used their own time to attend union meetings last month in Southern California and Orlando, Florida.
The union, which represents bag handlers and workers who stock planes with food and beverages, said it started a fundraising campaign to help the suspended workers and talked to Southwest executives about reinstating them.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. is the nation's fourth-largest airline.
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