While many businesses have been able to reopen and begin the recovery process after the pandemic’s economic shutdown, airlines are still struggling to make ends meet.
Southwest Airlines has asked its unionized workers to take pay cuts in an effort to avoid layoffs and furloughs as the pandemic continues to deter people from airline travel.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly made the request Monday in a message to employees after rival airlines American and United were forced to furlough more than 32,000 workers following the expiration of a $25 billion federal bailout meant to save airline jobs, according to the New York Post.
Southwest plans to cut non-union employees’ salaries by 10 percent through all of next year and negotiate with its labor unions for similar adjustments, Kelly said.
“It pains me that through no fault of any of you, we have to take these next steps,” Kelly told Southwest workers, adding that he won’t take a base salary through 2021. “But we need to realize how much we’ve demanded of our suppliers, how much we’ve asked of our lenders, our investors, our communities, our government. We must demand no less of ourselves.”
More than 80 percent of Southwest’s nearly 61,000 employees are represented by unions. The pilots union said it would discuss potential pay cuts with the company but told pilots in a letter that it would not rush “to make shortsighted moves when we lack the clarity we need to make informed decisions,” according to The Wall Street Journal, via the New York Post.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents flight attendants and other workers, also was skeptical regarding the proposed concessions.
“It’s a slippery slope and we have no intention of sliding down it,” John Samuelsen, the union’s international president, told the Journal.
Because of the widespread fear of contracting the coronavirus, air travel demand is at an all-time low, and with several imposed restrictions on domestic and international travel since March, airlines are struggling now more than ever. Passenger traffic for US airlines was still 67 percent below last year’s levels during the week of September 21, according to industry group Airlines for America, via the New York Post.
And with no clear end in sight, airlines and labor groups have urged Congress to renew the Payroll Support Program that aimed to keep workers employed through September 30. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did promise another round of aid, but it’s unclear when it will be approved.
“Since the [Payroll Support Program] has now expired, we simply cannot afford to continue with the conditions required to maintain full pay and employment,” Kelly said Monday.