United Airlines, pilots union reach deal to avert layoffs

NEW YORK (AFP) – United Airlines reached an agreement with its pilots union to avert furloughs of 2,850 pilots amid a congressional stalemate on a new federal relief package, the two sides said on Monday.

The agreement between the United States (US) carrier and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) avoids pilot layoffs through at least June 21 in exchange for allotting fewer hours to pilots.

However, United is still on track to furlough some 13,000 other workers as soon as October 1. These include flight attendants and staff in other airport operations.

Under the USD2.2 trillion CARES Act, enacted amid broad lockdowns in the US due to the coronavirus, major airlines received USD25 billion in payroll support under the condition that they not undertake involuntary job cuts through the end of September.

“Our members understood that to protect pilot jobs, we needed to approve this agreement,” said ALPA’s Executive Council Chairman Captain Todd Insler.

A United Airlines commercial jet sits at a gate at Terminal C of Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey on July 18, 2018. PHOTO: AP

“We’re spreading the existing flying among our pilot group while locking in permanent contractual gains.”

The agreement “greatly enhances our ability to bounce back”, United Senior Vice President Bryan Quigley said in a note to the pilots.

“It is now time to unite and move forward. We must continue to focus on flying a safe, caring, dependable and efficient operation and be ready to welcome the flying public back to the skies.”

But looming furloughs remain a worry for others throughout the airline industry as it endures a bruising industry downturn. Unions representing flight attendants facing looming furloughs are organising rallies and posting pictures of their final flights on social media in an effort to stir action from Washington.

“The deadline of mass job loss is NOW!” Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson said on Twitter. “Extend payroll protection and put in place #ReliefNow for the whole country!”