The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the airline industry, leading to United warning of mass layoffs.
“United Airlines on Wednesday said it is warning about 36,000 front-line employees — more than a third of its staff — about potential furloughs as the coronavirus pandemic continues to roil travel demand.
The potential for the mass job cuts, the largest announced by a U.S. airline so far, comes as signs of a recovery in air travel fade with new coronavirus infections and travel restrictions.
Federal law requires employers to give staff notice about possible layoffs or temporary furloughs 60 days in advance. United and other airlines that took $25 billion in federal payroll support are prohibited from laying off, furloughing or cutting the pay rates of staff until Oct. 1.
In a memo sent to employees Wednesday, United said workers who receive a WARN notice may not get furloughed. The company said it will exhaust voluntary measures before cutting employees. Some of the workers may be called back to work but that will depend on a return to demand, which some industry executives say could take years.
“The reality is that United simply cannot continue at our current payroll level past October 1 in an environment where travel demand is so depressed,” the carrier said in its staff note. ‘And involuntary furloughs come as a last resort, after months of company-wide cost-cutting and capital-raising . . .’
The furloughs would apply to unionized workers and warnings are going to some 15,000 flight attendants, more than half of the airline’s cabin crew, and more than 2,200 pilots. The airline also said more than 4,500 mechanics and technicians as well as more than 11,000 airport operations staff will receive Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, notices. ”
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