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How Delta Managed to Avoid Pilot Furloughs

Madhu Unnikrishnan
October 30th, 2020 at 2:28 PM EDT

Delta Air Lines and the leadership of its pilots union reached a tentative deal that would prevent furloughs until Jan. 1, 2022. The carrier previously had said as many as 1,900 pilots could lose their jobs on Nov. 1.

The deal, struck between management and negotiating committee of the carrier’s chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), would reduce monthly pilot hours by 5% but also would allow for more favorable scheduling terms, ALPA said. The agreement now goes to the union’s Master Executive Council (MEC) before Delta’s 13,000 pilots vote on it. Delta has agreed to push back the furlough date until Nov. 28 if the pilots reject the deal in order to give the union more time to weigh the deal and for membership to vote.

“While this agreement is still subject to approval by the MEC, we are confident this can help Delta to be better positioned through the long and choppy Covid-19 pandemic recovery,” John Laughter, Delta senior vice president of flight operations, said in a memo to pilots. “We still have some steps to go in the process to finalize contractual language for a tentative agreement that the MEC will then review and action.”

If the federal government extends the CARES Act payroll support program under the same terms, the deal would “pause,” resuming only after that new funding expired, ALPA said.

The union stressed that its ultimate goal is getting Congress to extend the payroll support program. “With the inking of this deal, ALPA’s priority will remain focused on making sure our voice is heard on Capitol Hill as we continue to seek a clean extension to the CARES Act and the [payroll support program] despite the recent delays that have been encountered,” Chris Riggins, spokesman for ALPA’s Delta MEC, said in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House have reached a stalemate on further coronavirus aid, and standalone bills for the airline industry have stalled in both the House and Senate. Both Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have said negotiations could resume after the Nov. 3 election, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been noncommittal.

The CARES Act mandated that airlines taking any of the $25 billion in aid to the industry could not involuntarily furlough any employees. To match staffing to diminished demand, airlines offered voluntary separation packages and extended leaves of absence. Some airlines, like Delta — excepting its pilots — and Southwest Airlines, were able to trim their headcount enough through those programs. But when the CARES Act expired on Sept. 30, airlines began furloughing more than 30,000 employees.

Delta avoided most furloughs but warned that it would have to cut its pilot roster by 1,900 jobs. This tentative deal avoids that. By contrast, American Airlines expects to furlough 1,600 pilots by the end of the year. United Airlines and its union reached a concessionary deal that reduced pilot hours and avoided almost 3,000 furloughs. Just this week, Allegiant said it would furlough 130 pilots.

Madhu Unnikrishnan
October 30th, 2020 at 2:28 PM EDT

Photo credit:  Flickr / blackqualis

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