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Airline CEOs, union leaders implore Congress and the administration to avoid Oct. 1 furloughs

Airline CEOs, union leaders implore Congress and the administration to avoid Oct. 1 furloughs
© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Airline CEOs and union leaders, joined by members of Congress, made a desperate plea at the Capitol on Tuesday for an extension of coronavirus relief.

The group – including Nicholas Calio, head of the industry group Airlines for America; Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines; Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways; and Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines – stressed at a press conference the high stakes situation for airline workers and that time is running out. 

A six-month extension of the Payroll Support Program (PSP), which was included in the CARES Act in late March, would allow other airlines to avoid upcoming Oct. 1 layoffs. Under the terms of that law, airlines are prohibited from firing or laying off any employees until Oct. 1.

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House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioHigh-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress House moderates unveil .25T infrastructure plan This week: Democrats set to begin chaotic three-week sprint MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesGOP lawmaker points to Colonial Pipeline as infrastructure vulnerability Gas shortages spread to more states Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the panel, were also at the press conference and called for action on the next coronavirus relief package. 

“It speaks to the severity of the crisis that I can thank my fellow CEOs, union partners, and our elected representatives, particularly chairman DeFazio and ranking member Graves, for being here with us today. It’s unusual to see a group united like this,” Kirby said. 

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson made an emotional plea for the Oct. 1 furloughs to be prevented. She shared personal stories about workers on the furlough list, like a mother and father with a special needs son and a wife with a husband in need of a heart transplant.

“There’s agreement all over Washington. You see that with the representatives who are here with us today. Democrats and Republicans and Independents, all standing together, all saying that they support keeping aviation workers in our jobs and continuing to support all the economic activity and jobs that our jobs support as well. But support is not enough. We are not going to hand out participation trophies,” she said. 

With the furloughs coming in eight days, airlines are requesting that any new package provides them with a $25 billion injection to postpone any job cuts at least until April.

When asked about if delaying the furloughs until April would delay the inevitable, Kirby said that’s “not accurate.” 

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“We’re going to know far more about a vaccine and when a vaccine is available. The problem for us today is that is so far over the horizon that we put our own companies at risk if we don’t do something in a world where our revenues are down 85 percent,” Kirby said.

Nelson called that concept “mean-spirited.”

“What we’re talking about for the next six months is hundreds of thousands of workers getting a paycheck and keeping their health care. We will be six months closer to a vaccine, six months closer to a testing regime,” Nelson said. 

She added, “this idea that we shouldn’t do it because it's going to delay the inevitable is a really mean-spirited thing to say to people who are looking at losing their livelihood and their ability to care for their families in the middle of a pandemic.” 

The White House and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrat says he won't introduce resolution to censure Greene after her apology Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe 21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol on Jan. 6 MORE (D-Calif.) have indicated their support for providing this relief for the airlines, but there has been a weeks-long stalemate on negotiations over a coronavirus relief package.

Calio said the group has been meeting with leadership in Washington “regularly.” 

Airline CEOs and union leaders were in Washington last week and met with White House officials on Thursday. They spoke by phone the following day with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and DeFazio.

On Oct. 1, American Airlines expects to ax 19,000 jobs, and United Airlines said it plans to cut 16,370.

Delta Air Lines will delay the effective date for pilot furloughs to Nov. 1, the company announced in a memo to employees on Tuesday.  

Delta is planning to furlough potentially 220 pilots, according to the memo and it announced last week it will not furlough any flight attendants and front-line workers in 2020 due to the many employees who opted for early retirement.