Charlene Carter worked loyally for Southwest Airlines for two decades but now finds herself in court fighting to win back the job she was fired from after confronting a union officer about its pro-abortion advocacy.
Carter is suing the company and Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, which represents airline flight attendants, to win back her job. She also filed a separate complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging religious discrimination for retaliation against her Christian beliefs.
"There's this cozy relationship between Southwest Airlines management and our union and it's blatant in my case," she told the Washington Free Beacon. "I think they were definitely against anybody pro-life. … I thought I had my union there to protect me, but they're not there to protect members from the union leadership."
A Southwest Airlines spokesman said the company does not comment on personnel matters or pending litigation. The union did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The case began in February when Carter took to Facebook to object to the union flying two dozen officials out to Washington, D.C., for the Women's March in January, as well as photos that circulated of Southwest turning cabin lights pink to endorse the protest, which was sponsored by Planned Parenthood. She posted pro-life materials to a group for flight attendants and sent similar messages, including a video depicting an abortion, to union President Audrey Stone.
Shortly afterward she was brought into a manager's office and fired for her "highly offensive" posts and "harassing and inappropriate" messages to Stone.
Carter said a core part of her Christianity is to advance the pro-life cause and warn against the dangers of abortion, but she insists her messages and posts are protected speech. The Railway Labor Act allows workers the freedom to speak out on any labor-related activities. Those messages related directly to the political advocacy that union leadership engaged in with member resources and disseminated through a union publication.
"They spend on our money for things a lot of membership doesn't agree with. This has been an ongoing fight," she said. "It's gotten really political."
Labor groups and Planned Parenthood have long financial ties mostly focused on political operations or charitable contributions taken from membership dues and sent to the nonprofit arm of the country's largest abortion provider. During the 2014 midterms, labor groups donated $435,000 to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group's political arm. March for Life spokesman Tom McClusky said that while he was unfamiliar with the case, Carter's dilemma with her union's advocacy is common among workers.
"Fact is that unions work and support the abortion industry despite it conflicts with the personal views of their members," he said.
Carter described herself as being heavily involved in the union at various points in her career, but noticed a change in the union's approach during the 2009 healthcare debate. She said union officials stopped focusing on "our job or our safety" and concentrated more on "telling us who to vote for or telling us what to say" about political issues.
She eventually became an agency fee payer to cut down on the amount of money that could be used for politics to voice her dissatisfaction, but began taking larger steps in recent years. She became a vocal support of a movement to recall Stone and her administration, joining other dissident union members to elect new leaders.
"Anybody who was vocal on the recall … they've been attacked," she said. "I've had a target on my back for a long time."
Carter said neither the union nor the company have been consistent in their approaches to policing social media. She pointed to a number of Stone allies or other union members who posted pictures of guns aimed at company executives during a heated contract dispute. Nearly all of them either went unpunished or saw their firings reversed after union intervention, according to her suit.
"I've seen the disparity of where they're going after certain people and letting others off," she said. "Some people did make specific threats and were protected by the very president who ultimately turned me in."
Carter is not seeking a windfall through the lawsuit. She only wants the back pay she would have made since her March firing, some damages, and her old job back. The mother of two said her dispute with union leadership has not diminished her love for the job or her coworkers.
"I love my job. I'm good at my job. I love the passengers and the people I fly with," she said. "It's been the best career ever … it's unfortunate that the management and union feel [workers are] just numbers out there."