United Airlines and American Airlines are set to begin furloughs of 32,000 employees after lawmakers continue to struggle in their effort to agree on a pandemic relief package that would include federal aid for the airlines. The airline industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 outbreak, as airline travel is down nearly 70% from a year ago.
Both airlines have said that employees would be recalled if a deal were to be reached in the coming days on a coronavirus relief package. The likelihood of any agreement, however, seems extremely uncertain.
“While sadly, involuntary furloughs begin today, we haven’t given up,” United Airlines said in a released statement. “In a continuing effort to give the federal government every opportunity to act, we have made clear to leadership in the Administration, Congress and among our union partners that we can and will reverse the furlough process if the CARES Act Payroll Support Program is extended in the next few days. We implore our elected leaders to reach a compromise, get a deal done now and save jobs.”
Back in March, Congress passed a $25 billion program to help cover payroll costs on the condition that workers not be laid off or have their pay cut before Oct. 1. Obviously, those protections have now expired, and without a second round of aid, the airline industry will be forced into more furloughs and layoffs.
Southwest and Delta Airlines have found ways to avoid furloughs up to this point, due in large part to them convincing tens of thousands of employees to agree to separation deals or take voluntary unpaid leave.