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Delta won't furlough flight attendants, ground workers

By Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

Thousands of Delta Air Lines flight attendants and ground service workers will keep their jobs when government payroll assistance runs out next month, executives announced Tuesday.

The Atlanta-based carrier and all its major competitors are expected to make substantial staffing decisions over the next several weeks, indicating what a downsized U.S. airline industry will look like for the coming years.

The federal government's airline bailout package expires on Oct. 1, which required carriers keep workers employed for the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic in exchange for government funds. But as the health crisis continues longer than originally hoped, airline executives forecast it will take two to three years for air travel demand to return to pre-pandemic levels and for the carriers to claw their way back out of economic crisis it has triggered.

During that time, airlines will be flying fewer routes, which means they'll fewer planes and fewer employees.

United Airlines recently announced it plans to furlough more than 16,000 workers on Oct. 1 and American Airlines said it will furlough as many as 19,000 workers at the same time.

Delta's pilots are the only major work group that's unionized at the airline. The company recently said it will furlough nearly 2,000 of its most junior-ranking pilots next month unless it can reach a cost-cutting agreement with its pilots union, Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA).

Earlier this month, nearly 2,000 of Delta's more senior-ranking pilots took the company's early retirement package, according to the Delta Master Executive Council of ALPA.

 

"I thank them once again for stepping out of the flight deck early to help save pilot jobs," Ryan Schnitzler, chairman of the Delta Master Executive Council, wrote last week in his letter to the pilots. "We will not stop fighng for their jobs, but we will also take care of them should Delta pull the trigger on furloughs."

Ed Bastian, Delta's chief executive, said Tuesday in an employee memo that they've been able to avoid the massive furloughs that their competitors are now facing "due to the innovation, hard work and shared sacrifice of our people."

More than 40,000 employees from across work groups took voluntarily, unpaid leaves of absence over the paste several months and about 17,000 employees - or about 20% of its workforce - took the company's early retirement packages. Ground-based employees have had their work hours reduced by 25% as air travel continues to be significantly depressed.

Nationwide, U.S. air travel remains about 70% below what it was the same time a year ago.

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