President Trump Could Step In To Stop Airline Layoffs

On Wednesday, the White House Chief of Staff suggested that if no agreement on a second stimulus package is reached, President Trump may sign an executive order to “solve some problems” and release funding. Such a move could potentially change the short-term fate of thousands of airline employees, mere months before the November presidential election.

American and JetBlue
The President may go ahead with an executive order to prevent airline furloughs, his Chief of Staff suggested on Wednesday. Photo: Getty Images

Negotiations over a second round of funding along the lines of the $3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act seem to have come to a standstill on Capitol Hill. While figures tossed around have been nowhere near those of the first installment, Democrats and the Trump Administration cannot seem to agree on the size and scope of the new stimulus package.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Issue has been raised with big three

However, the White House Chief of Staff, Stephen Meadows, is now suggesting that the President could step in unilaterally and sign an executive decision in support of US airlines. This could potentially grant funds to keep some airline employees from getting furloughed in October when the Payroll Support Program (PSP) portion of CARES runs out.

As reported by Reuters, Meadows said that he had spoken to the “big three,” American, United, and Delta and that the issue had been raised. Meanwhile, no mention was made of where the money would come from.

“We’re looking at other executive actions. If Congress is not going to work, this President is going to get to work and solve some problems. So hopefully, we can help out the airlines and keep some of those employees from being furloughed,” Meadows said.

Delta and United Getty
All the “big three” will be laying off thousands of employees in two months. Photo: Getty Images

Union says it needs Congress, not EOs

Meadows’ comments come just days after airlines revealed staggering numbers of layoffs that will be implemented when the PSP money is finished. He also said that while he would like to recommence negotiations on a second CARES, he was not optimistic that they would restart any time soon.

Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, was quick to comment, saying that executive orders would do nothing to protect workers in the long run.

American Airlines announced just yesterday that it would need to furlough approximately 17,500 employees on October 1st. Combined with the voluntary separation scheme, this means that American’s workforce would shrink by 40,000. It is joined by United Airlines, which has warned it could have 36,000 fewer employees, and Delta, who revealed plans to furlough close to 2,000 of its 11,200 active pilots.

Trump address coronavirus aviation getty images
This close to the November elections, everything is a political calculation. Photo: Getty Images

Elections inching closer

Politically, it is an interesting and precarious balancing act. The fact that the US presidential elections are coming up in November, a mere month after the mass furloughs announced by most major US airlines, is lost on no one.

On the one hand, the votes from those whose jobs could be rescued through an executive decision on funding may seem attractive. On the other hand, there are plenty of potential voters who feel that the airlines have already been given enough taxpayer money, and may not take kindly to what they could perceive to be a second bailout in the billions.

Furthermore, just because the President signs an executive order, that does not mean it will actually happen, as with the reduced rate extended unemployment benefits from a couple of weeks ago. Not only did several Governors deem it to be impossible, but its legality could very well be challenged in court. In addition, that kind of unilateral action on behalf of the Administration is likely to be detrimental to further talks in Congress.