United Airlines, Pilots Reach Deal To Avoid 3,000 Furloughs

Credit: United Airlines / Twitter

United Airlines and its pilots have reached a tentative agreement that would take nearly 3,000 involuntary furloughs off the table, the union’s airline leadership said Sept. 9. 

In a memo to pilots, Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman Todd Insler said the agreement in principle keeps all United pilots onboard, and does not affect pay rates, scope concessions, or “unacceptable” work-rule changes. Details of the agreement will not be released to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) represented pilots until the MEC votes on it “next week,” Insler said.  

“Despite having an agreement in principle, final contract language is not complete,” he wrote. “Until approved by the MEC, releasing details would be premature.” 

A spokesperson for the airline lauded the tentative deal. 

“We continue to try and reduce the number of involuntary furloughs at United and are happy we were able to reach an agreement in principle with ALPA that can potentially save pilot jobs,” the United spokesperson said. 

Word of the deal comes less than two weeks after United told its pilots that 2,850 involuntary furloughs would be required as part of larger cost-cutting efforts to offset revenue declines linked to the pandemic-related downturn. More than 1,700 of the jobs were set to end Oct. 1, which is when United and other airlines that received U.S. government payroll-support funding can begin involuntary cuts.  

Like many airlines, United has been working with its employees to trim payrolls through early retirements, sabbaticals, and other voluntary measures. Chicago-based United told employees Sept. 2 that it plans to cut 16,300 positions on Oct. 1. The pilots’ 2,850 job losses put them second on the list of most affected work groups behind flight attendants, which are slated to see 6,920 positions lost. 

Other airlines have said they will make similar reductions starting in October. The planned moves have prompted union groups to call on Congress to extend the $25 billion Payroll Support Program (PSP) with more money and time. 

“To date, tens of thousands of pilots and flight attendants have received notification of furlough when the PSP expires on Sept. 30, 2020. Without an extension of this program, the jobs of these pilots and flight attendants, along with hundreds of thousands of other U.S. aviation workers, will begin to disappear,” ALPA and the Association of Flight Attendants wrote in a Sept. 4 letter to senior lawmakers. “America’s aviation workers need the U.S. government to act with urgency to extend the PSP through March 31, 2021. Extending the PSP ensures that airline pilots, flight attendants, and other workers continue to support our airlines’ role in fueling our economy, assisting the U.S. military, and transporting American goods and services. Equally important, adopting a clean extension of the PSP through March 31, 2021, will prevent the widespread economic damage that follows mass furloughs and that results in a drain on federal and state resources.” 

Some Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for a PSP extension, but an agreement—which would be part of a much larger coronavirus relief package—has not been reached. A new Senate Republican proposal set to be unveiled as early as Sept. 10 as a starting point for a new round of talks does not include aviation worker support, Reuters reported. 

Both the unions and airlines are using the job-cut news to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers. 

“Absent an extension of the payroll support program, 19,000 of our team members will be involuntarily furloughed or separated from the company on October 1,” American Airlines president Robert Isom said during a Cowen & Co. investor event Sept. 9. “This is news that we never wanted to share with our team, but it is the reality that we’re facing, and we must confront it.” 

American told its employees in late August that the cuts would be coming. 

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.


1 Comment
I congratulate United on cutting a deal with the pilots to prevent a furlough. I don't agree that additional PSP funds need to be given until the end of March 2021. Let the market correct the airline business. The airlines need to get back to supplying superior service, and rebuilding the customer base