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Voluntary Furlough Rumors – Reality & Dispelling Some of the Urban Myths

Date: July 18, 2020

To date, there have been a number of communications from the Union addressing both of the contractual voluntary and involuntary furlough provisions of our Contract.  In fact, we’ve developed a COVID-19 Recovery resource page on www.unitedafa.org to provide you with a centralized point at which all of this information will reside. Today, this page was updated with the Involuntary Furlough Packet and FAQ.


Despite the information that we’ve published, we’re hearing that there may still be considerable confusion as to how the process works, who can bid and be awarded the voluntary furlough as well as some misunderstanding about what will happen to you if you bid voluntary furlough. Let’s see what we can do to clear up some of the misperceptions.


It is absolutely true that your Union leadership has made a commitment to do all possible to persuade management from placing anyone on involuntary furlough status.  It’s our goal – and we hope this is a shared goal – to keep all of our Members connected with their benefits during this very difficult time in history.  We have made a commitment to use every bit of our influence to work with management to avoid placing anyone on an involuntary furlough and, if history is any indication, we hope to be successful.


Having said this, we must be realistic as well. This period of time is like no other in the history of our airline. The resurgence of the virus in many parts of our country and the continuing reports of the large numbers of new cases is a source of great concern; not only for our country, but for the world community that we, as Americans, have the rich privilege of touring. As many of our colleagues who are still flying to international destinations are experiencing, there is almost a sense of fear about having Americans walking around in their country. Crew Members in international cities are expected to self-isolate and remain in their hotel rooms until the departure of their next flight back to the United States. Many of these countries are restricting Americans from accessing their countries in a concerned effort to ensure the COVID-19 pandemic does not spread further.


These realities suggest that the return to a full flight schedule will likely be delayed. The impact of these realities on the final reduction in force number cannot be understated.


Voluntary furlough awards are possible when those who are above the designated “line” submit bids to take time away from work.  For each person above the line who submits a bid, the next most senior person on the seniority list below the line becomes eligible to be awarded a voluntary furlough.  If there is an insufficient number of bidders above the line as well as those who subsequently become eligible below the line, involuntary furlough is the result.  It cannot be stressed strongly enough – those below the line cannot save themselves from involuntary furlough by bidding voluntary furlough. It should also be noted that while the Union will do everything possible to encourage management to take action to avoid involuntary furlough, the economic times in which we find ourselves may result in an unavoidable involuntary furlough.  There is no guarantee that if you are below the line that bidding for a voluntary furlough will ensure your continued access to benefits. Further, there is no guarantee that involuntary furloughs will not occur. No one should be led to believe they are guaranteed a voluntary furlough.


As your Union leadership has been telling you for some time, you should be making preparations for the difficult times that lay ahead of us. These difficult times will affect not only those potentially subject to involuntary furlough, but also those who will continuing working after October 1, 2020.


The facts of the matter are these. Flying is going to change. It is not going to resemble the flying to which we have become accustomed since the combination of our work groups for either lineholder or Reserves. There will be a smaller work force and, as a result, a smaller pool of people available to pick up trips which will ultimately impact the schedule flexibility we have come to enjoy.  There will likely be less open time which will be the direct result of a smaller work force and a reduced requirement for open time under the contract because the requirement is tied to the number of primary lineholders. Working conditions will be changing.  When you consider the senior point on the seniority list that is subject to involuntary furlough, 25 years of service, you must also consider that this is the new end of the seniority list and the point where these most “junior” members (having 25 years of service) become the dedicated Reserve work force. Said another way, those who have comfortably enjoyed lineholder status for some number of years will now be working under a different set of conditions – for some period of time. Lineholder schedules will likely be built at higher line values. It is reasonable to expect that Reserve utilization will be considerably higher. All of this is the direct result of the efforts management will make to reduce the work force and cover the airlines’ schedule. John Slater has already told you as much.


Some may suggest that we’re telling you these things to frighten people.  Others may suggest we are being alarmist. Whatever your view, the facts are the facts. Anyone who expects working conditions after October 1st to return to that which we enjoyed pre-COVID will likely be surprised.


In point of fact, we are telling you this because we want you to make a realistic assessment of what our job will look like in the future. It will be different and the changes in status from dedicated lineholder to dedicate Reserve cannot be overlooked. It will impact you and your family. For all of these reasons, we ask that you make a realistic assessment of these facts and be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that are being presented to you now if these changes will present you with challenges you are not able to overcome. 


We encourage you to talk to those who have been through any of the number of voluntary furloughs that we’ve lived through in our more recent history. If you have additional questions, we can’t encourage you enough to avoid the speculation of social media. Talk to your Local Council leadership. Review the information on the COVID-19 Recovery resource page on the United MEC website.  Finally, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to formulate those and send them to us at COVID-19recovery@unitedafa.org

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