U.S. Airline Unions Urge Lawmakers To Extend Subsidies Until March 31

Credit: Joe Pries

WASHINGTON—Six unions representing a large cross-section of the U.S. airline industry have urged federal lawmakers to extend CARES Act payroll support until March 31, 2021, warning mass layoffs will be “inevitable” unless additional funds are forthcoming.

Signed into law on March 27, the CARES Act provided airline employees and contractors $32 billion in grants and loans through the Payroll Support Program (PSP), the entirety of which went to employee pay and benefits through Sept. 30. 

Beyond that date, however, it is widely expected airlines will need to reduce head counts to realign their labor costs with lower travel demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Should Oct. 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,” officials from the six unions wrote in a June 25 letter to House and Senate leadership.

The letter’s signatories included officials from the Air Line Pilots Association, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, Communications Workers of America, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Transport Workers Union and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

Draft legislative language shared by the unions calls for essentially doubling the payroll support funds provided across the industry. Passenger carriers would receive an additional $25 billion, while cargo airlines would get another $4 billion and contractors $3 billion more.

“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,” the unions wrote.

Airline executives repeatedly have stated they hope enough employees will accept voluntary-separation and early-retirement packages offered to reduce the need for layoffs following the cessation of CARES Act payroll support in October.

A total of more than 100,000 employees at American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines already have accepted such offers, comprising nearly a third of their combined pre-pandemic workforce.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.