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House Speaker Pelosi Calls on Airlines to Delay Furloughs as Congress Weighs More Aid

Madhu Unnikrishnan
October 2nd, 2020 at 2:34 PM EDT

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) today urged airlines to stop furloughing employees and said new funds from Congress could be imminent, either as part of a larger coronavirus-aid package or in a standalone bill.

“As relief for airline workers is being advanced, the airline industry must delay these devastating job cuts,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Airlines began the process of furloughing more than 30,000 employees Thursday after the payroll support program through the CARES Act expired on September 30. Airlines and their unions lobbied for federal aid to be extended through March. The House of Representatives yesterday passed the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act coronavirus-aid bill, which contained more than $25 billion in aid to the airline industry, but the bill’s prospects in the Senate remain uncertain, as the White House and Senate Republicans remain deadlocked over the size of the stimulus.

While the legislature weighs coronavirus aid, Pelosi called on airlines to stop furloughs and layoffs. “The massive furloughs and firings of America’s airline workers jeopardize the livelihoods of tens of thousands and threaten to accelerate the devastating economic crisis facing our nation,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi signaled Congress could pass standalone aid for the airline industry. “We will either enact Chairman DeFazio’s bipartisan stand-alone legislation or achieve this as part of a comprehensive negotiated relief bill, extending for another six months the payroll support program,” Pelosi said. referring to a bill introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) last week introduced a standalone bill in the Senate that would provide $28 billion in aviation-industry payroll support.

Airlines and their unions have argued that although demand remains depressed, airlines need to maintain current staffing levels in order to bounce back when demand returns. Recalling licensed employees — like pilots, flight attendants, and maintenance technicians — could be difficult if employees’ certifications have expired, or if new workers need to be hired and trained. Pelosi signaled she agreed. “This initiative is focused solely on the workers, keeping them on the payroll so these workers maintain their critical training and certification requirements unique to their industry,” she said.

American began furloughing 19,000 employees on October 1. “As promised, we will reverse our furlough process and recall any impacted team members if the payroll support program is extended in the next few days, ” a spokesman for the carrier told Airline Weekly.

“As we said earlier this week, we are eager to reverse the furlough process once Congress has passed legislation to extend the CARES Act payroll support program, but they need to act quickly,” a United spokesman told Airline Weekly.  “We’re hopeful that the widely expressed, bipartisan support for saving airline jobs will lead to a legislative breakthrough soon.” United started furloughing more than 13,000 employees yesterday.

This post has been updated with statements from American and United.

Madhu Unnikrishnan
October 2nd, 2020 at 2:34 PM EDT

Photo credit:  Flickr / Edward Kimmel

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