While American Airlines and United have already furloughed 35,000 workers, Delta and Southwest have avoided involuntary furloughs entirely – even with the federal government no longer picking up the bulk of airline payroll.
- Delta Air Lines got modest concessions from pilots, and non-union groups like flight attendants are shifting around the airline to pick up other work that had previously been done by contractors.
- Southwest offered generous early retirement packages and leaves, and decided to cover more employees on payroll than they needed in anticipation of a return of air travel that didn’t materialize. Their commitment was not to furlough anyone in 2020.
In order for Southwest to continue to avoid furloughs they’ve said they need pay concessions unless, of course, the federal government again picks up the majority of the airline’s payroll. (Southwest received $3.3 billion for six months of payroll support and says they’re carrying an annual $1 billion too much in payroll. They need to generate half of that, or $500 million in savings, to keep everyone on staff. They’ll cover the rest.
One strategy that’s been discussed to generate more revenue from flight attendants is onboard co-brand credit card sales pitches which current work rules don’t provide for.
From the beginning Southwest unions have taken the position of full pay to the last day, which is another way of saying they don’t care about junior employees as long as senior employees don’t have to sacrifice. The airline needs some savings from everyone to keep everyone on board, or they’ll keep the most senior expensive employees at full pay. Those senior expensive employees don’t want to give up anything to benefit their colleagues.
The flight attendants union at Southwest is telling its members to expect WARN Act notices, but that those notices don’t mean anything.
- In order to furlough employees Southwest must give 60 days’ notice.
- They’ll do that if there’s no deal in place, even if one will eventually be forthcoming.
“Your negotiating team believes that the company will continue through the process of issuing notices of potential furloughs as required by the WARN Act, even if those notices are not followed by furloughs,” TWU Local 556 told members after an Oct. 27 negotiation session with the company. The union represents about 17,000 Southwest flight attendants.
Publicly the flight attendants union has been saying no to concessions, and also implying to members that the airline won’t go through with furloughs. That’s a dangerous position. It suggests Southwest is bluffing and will pay to remain fully overstaffed, while its competitors have succeeded in downsizing and when the airline has publicly told investors they’re unable to do that. It’s almost like they’re hiding from reality inside an overhead bin.
Meanwhile pilots and mechanics want an ironclad gaurantee that concessions will mean no 2021 furloughs – to date Southwest has caveated with a force majeure clause ‘barring unforeseen circumstances’ because this is 2020 and if this year was possible what giant meteor could 2021 bring?