Flight Attendants, Airline Unions Plead With Government to Avoid Layoffs

The powerful Association of Flight Attendants and five other airline unions have written a letter to Congress, pleading with the government to avoid mass layoffs come Oct. 1, 2020, by extending the Payroll Support Program (PSP) through March of 2021.

The Oct. 1 date was the critical marker in the original $3 trillion CARES Act stimulus package passed by the federal government earlier this year to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. The government stipulated that any airline that took the combination of grants and loans could not furlough or layoff any employee through Sept. 30, 2020. Virtually every domestic carrier took the deal—and virtually every domestic carrier has said it will likely need to lay off employees come the fall.

The letter was signed by Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants; Joe DePete, President, Air Line Pilots Association; Sito Pantoja, General Vice President for Transportation, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; John Samuelsen, International President, Transport Workers Union; Christopher M. Shelton, President, Communications Workers of America; and Larry I. Willis, President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

“Aviation workers account for 5 percent of the nation’s GDP. Should October 1 arrive without extending the PSP grant job program mass layoffs are inevitable, as airline executives have acknowledged. Hundreds of thousands of workers will lose their jobs and health insurance—not only in aviation, but across our entire economy,” the group wrote.

“Further, the industry would lose a large portion of the experienced and credentialed workforce that will be critical to bringing the sector and the broader economy back to prosperity once the COVID-19 crisis is over. Airline industry employment cannot simply be put back together overnight, and mass layoffs will do great damage to the sector, with potentially irrevocable consequences.”

The letter was sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Noting that the PSP has helped keep tens of thousands of aviation workers still employed through the pandemic, and that air travel remains a slight fraction of last year’s levels with demand remaining depressed well into next year, the group pleaded for an extension.

“Therefore, we are calling on Congress to pass a clean extension of the PSP through March 31, 2021, allowing the program to continue as intended under the current statute without requiring additional applications or agreements between Treasury and the recipients,” the group wrote.

“This is the simplest and fastest way to maintain Congress’ historic commitment to keep aviation workers on payroll—many of whom are on the front lines of this deadly virus. Only through an extension of PSP grants can Congress ensure that airline workers will continue to stay on payroll and ready to turn the industry around, prevent mass unemployment in October, and keep aviation workers ready to lift off as travel picks back up. We urge you to include this simple and necessary provision in the next COVID-19 response package, and appreciate your continued support for airline and airline contractor employees in our country.”

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