Airline Industry Offer to Avoid Layoffs for Five Months is Rebuffed
March 22, 2020
PHOTO SOURCE: BRANDON WADE
The chance for thousands of airline employees to keep their jobs through the summer may be dimming.
On Saturday, with the coronavirus crisis having largely idled the global airline industry, the 10 leading U.S. carriers offered Congress a deal: Give us $28 billion in payroll protection grants, and the carriers will not lay off anybody through August 31.
On Sunday afternoon, the offer appeared to have been rejected, although negotiations continue on a $1.8 trillion package. Democratic leaders were backing the grants, while Republican leaders were opposed. “No deal on vast coronavirus stimulus bill as crunch time arrives on Capitol Hill,” was the Washington Post headline early Sunday afternoon.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “is standing in the way,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants and one of the airline labor union leaders who has joined with the airlines in lobbying for the bill.
“People need to understand that the McConnell version of this stimulus means massive furloughs or layoffs and extended hurt well after pandemic is over,” Nelson said Sunday. “There needs to be a public outcry for continuing to keep people in their jobs and on the payroll.”
Nelson said payroll protection grants for the airline industry are supported by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as well as the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.
Nelson said the Democratic version of the bill contains pay protection not only for airline employees, but also for airport workers employed for contractors to the airlines. She said the protections would extend to “people from the airport worker who wheels your grandmother to the plane, to the flight attendant who greets her, the catering worker who makes sure she can eat and drink, and the pilot who lands the plane.”
The airline industry is seeking a bailout package of $58 billion in total. Saturday was the first time it offered no layoffs or furloughs until Sept. 1 in exchange for a pay protection grant.
Airlines signed on to the no-layoff offer include passenger carriers Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines; of cargo airlines Atlas Air, FedEx Express and UPS Airlines
Additionally, the executives said in a letter to Congressional leaders, if loan guarantees equaling at least $29 billion are enacted, they will place limits on executive compensation and eliminate both stock buybacks and stock dividends for the life of the loans.”
Airport workers have already started to be laid off, leaders of the Service Employees International Union said Sunday on a media call.
So far, 2,100 Northeast airport workers have been laid off, including 600 at Philadelphia International Airport and 1,500 at the three New York airports, said a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 32 BJ, which includes about 10,000 airport workers among its 175,000 members. “We expect the worst of the layoffs to start this coming week,” said Rob Hall, vice president of the local.
Takiah Garrett, a passenger service representative at Newark airport, assists international passengers who are boarding and disembarking.
“I know that I work in a high-risk job, where I am exposed to the [passengers], but I need my job,” said Garrett, the mother of three children whose schools have shut down. “If I get laid off, I have no bailout,” she said. “This is not fair to people like me who keep the doors open at the airport.”
The union spokeswoman noted, “It is our hope and expectation that the House and Senate Dems are including contracted workers in bill language. However, we have not yet seen the language yet and cannot confirm the workers’ inclusion.”