Southwest boosts dividend, announces new share buybacks

HOUSTON (AP) — Southwest Airlines Co. is raising its dividend and buying back more of its own stock.

At its annual meeting Wednesday, Southwest announced a new $1.5 billion share-buyback program and an increase in the quarterly dividend to 7.5 cents per share from 6 cents per share.

Some of the airline’s ground workers picketed outside the meeting to protest the lack of a new contract despite four years of negotiations. The pilots’ union said Tuesday that it was starting to prepare for a potential strike if it can’t get a deal in the next several months.

Unions say they should share in the success of a company that earned a record $1.14 billion last year. Shareholders prospered — the value of their stock jumped 125 percent in 2014. Last month, Southwest reported a record first-quarter profit of $453 million amid steady travel demand and lower fuel costs.

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In late-morning trading Wednesday, shares of the Dallas-based airline dropped 34 cents to $41.91. They started the day down 0.2 percent this year.