Association of Flight Attendants President Calls Out Airlines for Undermining CARES Act

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, today sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, Transportation Committee ahead of its hearings on the industry, saying in part that some airlines are “attempting to flout” the intent of the CARES Act stimulus package.

The hearings, known as “The State of the Aviation Industry: Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” began today. Airlines for America CEO Nick Calio was expected to testify.

Nelson’s nearly four-page letter addressed several topics, including what she believes are some airlines undermining a big portion of the stimulus package earmarked for airlines—grants that would cover payroll protection in exchange for carriers not firing or reducing the pay of employees until after Sept. 30, 2002.

“We appreciate the overwhelmingly positive partnership with carriers of all sizes that have worked to closely follow the statutory obligations of the Act and meet their ongoing obligations to workers. Despite the clear statutory language in the CARES Act requiring carriers who receive payroll grants to maintain pay levels and benefits, a small number of carriers are attempting to flout the Act and cheat workers,” Nelson wrote. “These outliers have accepted federal payroll grant dollars while slashing hours and pay, in clear violation of Congressional intent and the express language of the CARES Act.”

Nelson then called out Delta Air Lines specifically, saying the Atlanta-based carrier “was the first out of the gate with cuts to hours and worker take-home pay.”

According to a Bloomberg News story, Delta and JetBlue have been forced to reduce work hours among several groups of employees in the wake of an unprecedented drop in demand for travel. Airlines have seen a drop of 90 percent of its passengers compared to last year.

“(Delta) made the decision to cut ground crew hours by as much as 40 percent without consulting with workers and set in motion a vicious and escalating pattern of cuts considered by other airlines,” Nelson wrote. “Delta Air Lines Flight Attendants have asked their management to commit to a minimum number of monthly hours equivalent to the amount delineated in the Flight Attendant contract of Delta’s closest industry comparator, but to date, Delta management has refused to do so…”

Aviation experts fully expect airlines to make a dramatic reduction in their respective workforces starting Oct. 1, when the restriction on job cuts and furloughs and salary cuts end.

“Slash hours now, fire workers in October, and stockpile billions of dollars that were intended for workers in order to subsidize ongoing airline operations and gain a competitive advantage over any carrier that used the funds as intended to maintain jobs, paychecks and benefits,” Nelson wrote. “If left unchecked by Congress, the Treasury Department, and other oversight bodies, the result will be a race to the bottom, penalizing companies that do right by their workers in disbursing payroll grants to workers as Congress intended. If carriers want workers to consider taking time off, they must create voluntary programs that are not in violation of the CARES Act.”

United Airlines has started down that road, as its chief operations officer strongly suggested to employees to take a voluntary separation.

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