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United, Pilots Reach Deal to Prevent Furloughs

Madhu Unnikrishnan
September 28th, 2020 at 1:35 PM EDT

Update: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a slimmed down version of the HEROES Act, which the House passed in may, that would provide $25 billion in airline payroll support, and would bar furloughs until March 2021.

United Airlines pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) voted to ratify a deal that would keep all 13,000 pilots on the roster until June of next year. With this deal, the 2,850 pilots who were to be furloughed on October 1 will keep their jobs.

Union leadership and management reached an agreement last week on a deal to avoid layoffs, and voting continued through the weekend. The new agreement extends voluntary separation packages for pilots over the age of 50 who have more than 10 years of experience. United had avoided pilot furloughs earlier this year with a similar voluntary separation package. The new letter of agreement will reverse temporary work-hour reductions if demand starts to return.

“We’ve worked for months on creative solutions to mitigate massive pilot layoffs,” said Todd Insler, United ALPA Master Executive Council chairman.  “With this agreement now solidified, we will turn our focus back to Congress to secure a much-needed CARES Act extension to keep our industry solvent until we recover from this pandemic.”

Unions and airline CEOs have stepped up their lobbying of Congress in the last 10 days, as the September 30 expiration of CARES Act payroll support looms. At a press conference last week, union leadership and airline management — including United CEO Scott Kirby — warned that tens of thousands of employees could be out of work on October 1 if Congress does not extend the program through March 2021.

Congress, even with its hands full with a Supreme Court vacancy and the upcoming elections, has shown some appetite to extend the bill. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) last week introduced a bill to provide $28 billion in more airline aid. And the two leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), signaled their support for the measure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is said to be open to including more airline aid in the coronavirus-relief legislation she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are negotiating.

Airlines and their unions are keeping a keen eye on Congress as they negotiate possible furloughs. Last week, Delta and its ALPA leadership struck a deal to delay almost 2,000 pilot furloughs by one month, until Nov. 1. The union said it is postponing a decision on that agreement to give itself more time to consider it.

This post has been updated with more information on the Delta-ALPA agreement and to reflect the new HEROES Act released by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Madhu Unnikrishnan
September 28th, 2020 at 1:35 PM EDT

Photo credit:  United Airlines

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