Airlines welcome back thousands of furloughed workers after Congress passes stimulus bill

Business

Executives from United and American Airlines announced plans Tuesday to bring back thousands of their furloughed workers in response to Congress passing its latest Covid-19 relief bill.

The new law includes an extension of the airline industry’s Payroll Support Program, which sets aside $15 billion in assistance to bring back more than 32,000 United and American Airlines employees who were furloughed in September. The companies say the additional funds are enough to pay those workers through March 31.

In a Tuesday morning letter, United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart said their company plans to restore “temporary employment” to thousands of their out-of-work employees.

“This is certainly good news for our economy, our industry, and our airline — but it’s especially good news for those who have been without a paycheck, and we can’t wait to welcome them back,” Kirby and Hart wrote.

American Airlines laid off 9,000 of its workers back in September. The company told its furloughed workers on Tuesday that it expects they will receive retroactive pay by Christmas Eve, according to a letter provided to CNN Business via email. CEO Doug Parker also thanked elected officials for restoring the Payroll Support Program.

“We appreciate the confidence Congress and the administration are placing in us by extending this additional support, and we proudly accept the responsibility that comes with it,” Parker wrote in a separate Tuesday morning statement.

The new bill was celebrated by the Association of Flight Attendance-CWA, the union that represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants working for 20 airline companies. AFA International President Sara Nelson says union members have spent the last three months sending thousands of calls and letters to lawmakers and hosting events in 24 cities in support of the measure.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible solidarity of Flight Attendants, our entire union, and industry,” Nelson wrote Tuesday in a letter to union members. “This is just a down payment on what’s needed for recovery,” she added. “We need everyone ready to fight forward.”

The new stimulus package also extends the previous measure’s cap on executive compensation and bans stock buybacks, according to the AFA.

Kirby, the United Airlines CEO, noted that recalled workers’ employment will remain temporary. He pointed out that the relief bill doesn’t change the market challenges the industry still faces thanks to Covid-19.

“We don’t expect customer demand to change much between now and the end of the first quarter of 2021,” Kirby added. “The truth is, we just don’t see anything in the data that shows a huge difference in bookings over the next few months.”

Airport workers left in the lurch
It’s still unclear whether airport concessions workers will benefit from this legislation, according to UNITE HERE, the union for more than 45,000 airport industry, hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry and transportation workers in the United States and Canada.

More than 75% of the union’s hospitality industry members remain out of work this month.

A UNITE HERE spokesperson said the latest stimulus bill was “too little, too late,” noting that its allocated support to airports includes $200 million for rent relief to airport concessionaires, which includes food and retail businesses, but doesn’t appear to include any worker protections.

“It is our hope that these new conditions will ensure that these subcontractors utilize these funds as they are intended: to help workers,” the spokesperson said via email.