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Aviation unions are asking congress for $15 billion to extend furlough protections

Business Insider logo Business Insider 1/30/2021 kshalvey@businessinsider.com (Kevin Shalvey)
a group of people sitting at a table: Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. Sara Nelson © Sara Nelson Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. Sara Nelson
  • A coalition of aviation unions asked congress for $15 billion to extend furlough protections.
  • Without the funds, "wide-scale layoffs" may begin as early as March 31, they said in a letter.
  • This is a "critical moment for the country and the industry," the unions said. 
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A coalition of aviation unions has asked congress for a $15 billion extension for a furlough protection program, warning a lack of funding would lead to layoffs.

The funding would extend the current Payroll Support Program through September 30. Otherwise, it would expire on March 31. 

"Without these actions, wide-scale layoffs in the industry will begin as early as March 31st," the unions wrote in a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with others.

The letter was signed by seven unions, representing pilots, flight attendants, and other aviation workers.

Delta Air Lines pre-flight cleaning crew members work on an aircraft at JFK International Airport. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters © Shannon Stapleton/Reuters Delta Air Lines pre-flight cleaning crew members work on an aircraft at JFK International Airport. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters "With vaccination in its early stages, this is a critical moment for the country and the industry. The continuation of PSP will ensure that we emerge from the pandemic in the strongest possible position and ready to get America moving," they wrote. 

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The payroll program has supported hundreds of thousands of workers at a time when airline revenue has plunged due to the pandemic, said the unions. Southwest Airlines, for example, furloughed 7,000 workers for the first time in its history. 

United Airlines, meanwhile, warned about 14,000 employees they may be furloughed starting on April 1, if the program isn't extended, according to Reuters.

In December, United recalled about 13,000 furloughed workers when the payroll protection program got $15 billion in funding, according to Reuters. In total, the program helped airlines bring back as many as 32,000 staffers, Reuters reported. 

"The payroll support program was a grant program to go to the airlines that could only got to pay in benefits to workers - 2.1 aviation workers," said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents about 50,000 workers at 20 airlines. 

As originally designed, payroll program funded about 70% of airline payrolls, with no reduction in hourly pay until March 31, 2021, according to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

The measure also limited stock buybacks and executive compensation. 

  
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