United Airlines has reached a tentative agreement with its pilots union for a package of measures including early retirement and voluntary furloughs. The airline is looking to shed around 2,200 pilots, in an effort to right-size its operations for a post-COVID environment. However, Captain Todd Insler, chairman of the United chapter of ALPA, warns more furloughs could be coming.
Following the revelation that almost half its workforce could be at risk of becoming furloughed in October, United Airlines and its pilots union have reportedly reached a tentative agreement. While details are yet to be fully ratified by union leaders and are therefore not being disclosed yet, they are likely to include a mix of voluntary furloughs and early retirement packages, in a bid to avoid involuntary layoffs.
The United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) represents approximately 13,000 pilots who work for the airline. It was understood that, among the 36,000 employees who would be receiving WARN notices of impending furloughs, 2,200 were pilots.
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Chairman of the United chapter of ALPA, Captain Todd Insler, issued a statement carried by Fox News, which read,
“Furloughing employees is corporate triage with a terrible impact on thousands of United families. The notification sent yesterday to 2,250 pilots represents over 17 percent of our ranks at risk of furlough this year. Unfortunately, this may not be the full extent of the furloughs, and we must be prepared for more based on the Company’s plan to be 30 percent smaller next summer.
“ALPA is doing everything we can do to support our fellow pilots, and we look forward to final agreements on these voluntary programs which will mitigate pilot furloughs.”
The pain of the second wave
US-based airlines were already in trouble after travel demand dipped to almost nothing in April. The CARES Act helped them maintain a reasonable level of liquidity but also served to put off the inevitable shrinking of workforces come the fall.
Worse still has been the stop-start nature of the recovery. While airlines began adding more services by the start of June, in the hopes that they’d catch some of the summer traffic, a surge in coronavirus cases has seen bookings plummet. Whether it is indeed a second wave or just a continuation of the first is up for debate, but either way, it’s put these carriers in a tough position, being unable to predict travel demand from one day to the next.
Airlines around the world are facing difficult decisions as they strive to right-size their workforce for the post-COVID environment. Across the pond, British Airways is looking at furloughs of up to 12,000, Lufthansa of double that many, and many smaller carriers are wondering if they can even survive.
Still furloughs to come
As the year presses on, US airline workers are increasingly worried about their positions. American, Delta and Southwest have all secured agreements with pilots unions for early retirement packages, but have also stressed that this may not be the end of it. Labor unions have called on Congress to provide further payroll support, to secure jobs through to April next year.
For United, reaching a tentative agreement with its pilots union is a positive step, but it is just the tip of the iceberg in reality. Almost half of the 36,000 WARN letters are going out to flight attendants, around two-thirds of the workforce, and United is going to have to work hard if it wants to avoid involuntary furloughs in that sector.