American Airlines backs unions in bid to extend billions in federal aid through March

A member of a ground crew walks past American Airlines planes parked at the gate during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 5, 2020.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

American Airlines’ top executives on Wednesday backed an effort to extend billions in federal aid to protect aviation jobs through March as the pandemic’s impact on travel threatens tens of thousands of positions.

Some $32 billion in federal aid was set aside to protect jobs in the U.S. airline industry, and it prohibited employers from cutting positions through Sept. 30 under the CARES Act relief package that lawmakers passed in March.

But with that deadline looming and a surge in U.S. coronavirus cases hurting a nascent recovery in travel demand, some lawmakers and labor unions are seeking additional aid. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires employers to notify staff about possible layoffs or temporary furloughs generally 60 days in advance, meaning airlines are beginning to warn workers about potential furloughs this fall.

Earlier this week, bipartisan House lawmakers, led by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D.-Ore., chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure urged in a letter to other members of Congress to extend funding for the program through March 2021, which labor unions called for late last month.

The Trump administration and drugmakers are fast-tracking work on a Covid-19 vaccine and hope to get one approved for distribution as early as the end of the year. 

By March 2021, “there would most certainly be more demand for air travel, and along with that demand, much less need for involuntary furloughs throughout the industry,” wrote the airline’s CEO Doug Parker and its president, Robert Isom, in a note to staff, warning employees about 25,000 potential furloughs. 

“This is a union-led initiative across our industry, but American is supportive of any legislation that would protect our team’s jobs during these extraordinary times,” they said.

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