Southwest Airlines offers staff referral bonuses to ease hiring problems

Southwest Airlines launched new incentives this week in hopes it will ease its trouble hiring as travel demand bounces back from pandemic lows.

“Southwest is experiencing a sharp decline in qualified applicants due to low labor force participation and competition for available talent,” Julie Weber, Southwest’s vice president and chief people officer, wrote in a Tuesday note to staff, which was reviewed by CNBC.

Staff can receive 20,000 “SWAG Points” if referrals accept offers and work for six months, according to Weber’s note. Those points on Southwest’s internal platform have a taxable value of 1.5 cent each, a company document says.

It was not clear whether the points could be redeemed for cash, however. Five employees’ referrals will also be selected each week for 5,000 points for the referring staff member, Weber said.

Southwest and other carriers spent much of the pandemic urging workers to take early retirement packages or unpaid or partially paid time off. Now, they are scrambling to hire to cater to the rebound in travel demand that materialized faster than many airline executives said they expected.

Staffing shortages in the airline industry this summer have led to hourslong hold times for customer service lines and exacerbated flight disruptions from bad weather. Flight crews at American Airlines and Southwest have complained about a lack of available hotels or food options while they are on duty.

In June, Southwest raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Southwest didn’t immediately comment on the referral program, which runs through Nov. 20.

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