Between American Airlines and United Airlines they’re furloughed 35,000 workers. Delta managed to avoid furloughs entirely, but Southwest Airlines only promised not to furlough workers through the end of the year. Southwest is now negotiating with unions on 10% pay reductions that would avoid letting anyone go. The airline says that would cover half the cost of having too many employees, and they’d cover the other half to be ready to grow as demand returns.
The problem with negotiating with a union on pay reductions for everyone to save the jobs of fewer than half of members is that a majority of a union’s members may not want to give up anything when they don’t have anything at risk. If furloughs go through the workers who remain still make full pay. Unions talk about solidarity but when it comes down to it it’s every worker for themselves.
That’s a short-sighted view though because furloughs don’t just disrupt the lives of those who lose their jobs. They’re just the most obvious people affected.
Pilots get bumped down to flying smaller aircraft, and from captain to co-pilot. Flight attendants though are really displaced too. That’s because senior flight attendants, used to working the best trips, wind up back on reserve.
- Reserve means there are specific days and times you’re scheduled to be ‘on call’ for the month. You can get a call and have to acknowledge it right away, head straight to the airport. You have to be available at all of your scheduled times, maybe starting at 4 a.m. You may sit at home, be out and about, and have to head into the airport to travel – or not. (You may also be told ahead of time that on some of your reserve days you’ll actually travel.)
- Ready reserve means you sit around at the airport in case you’re needed on the spot.
You may wind up traveling to different cities as a complete surprise. you don’t know where you’ll be sleeping on a given night. Or you may wake up in the middle of the night and wait, only to do nothing.
After furloughing about 8000 flight attendants there are American Airlines cabin crew that have been with the airline for over 30 years back on reserve. Here’s American’s seniority breakdown by flight attendant base for December assigned to reserve.
American flight attendants have complained about trips with 72 hour layovers in countries where they can’t leave their hotel rooms. The airline’s Senior Vice President Jill Surdek warned cabin crew they wouldn’t like the schedules they flew if they didn’t take voluntary early outs. But most people didn’t really internalize what that meant.
Southwest’s employees should consider that as they evaluate whether it’s worth some concessions to avoid furloughs to start 2021.