Layoffs loom for beleaguered US airline industry

File: American Airlines had previously cancelled all 737 MAX flights through 19 August as it awaited recertification of the aircraft in the wake of the crashes.

File: American and United airlines were the first to announce cuts, saying they would begin furloughing 19,000 and 13,000 workers respectively.

AFP/Joe Raedle

NEW YORK - Workers from the beleaguered US airline industry were making a last-ditch public appeal this week to coax more money from Capitol Hill power brokers to save their jobs.

The first day of October concludes the period when US carriers that received billions in aid from Congress promised to refrain from laying off workers. 

American and United airlines were the first to announce cuts, saying they would begin furloughing 19,000 and 13,000 workers respectively as US officials have failed to reach a deal on fresh aid to the pandemic-hit air travel sector.

READ: American Airlines deploys new anti-COVID spray in planes

A package of loans totalling up to $25-billion to seven US carriers announced Tuesday night by the Treasury Department provides funds for airlines to ride out a prolonged downturn amid the coronavirus, but won't affect plans for furloughs, airline sources said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday on CNBC he was hopeful airlines would postpone layoffs if congressional leaders can reach a framework for a deal, saying it was "critical" for Congress to act.

While the stalemate in Washington over stimulus has pinched unemployed workers and put public sector employees on notice, vulnerable airline workers have in some ways been the poster children for the impasse.

READ: American Airlines notifies workers of potential layoffs

"Tomorrow, tens of thousands of essential aviation workers will wake up without a job or healthcare and tens of thousands more will be without a paycheck," Sara Nelson, president of the AFA-CWA flight attendant union, said in a statement. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mnuchin held talks again Tuesday and agreed to keep negotiating. But a deal is still far from assured.

Since the coronavirus intensified in March, US airlines have been grounding planes and delaying jet deliveries to limit their cash-burn as air travel remains at about only one-third of its level a year ago.

Carriers have struck agreements with unions to spread out work among employees. Tens of thousands of employees have also accepted unpaid leave or early retirement packages to avert the need for involuntary terminations. 

Source
AFP