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Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastion Responds to Criticism from Elizabeth Warren; Says His Employees “Sacrifice Together”

Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastion Responds to Criticism from Elizabeth Warren; Says His Employees “Sacrifice Together”

Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian has responded to claims made by a group of Democratic Senators including former Presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders that its decision to cut the paid working hours of some workers including flight attendants after receiving $5.4 billion in payroll support from the federal government was potentially illegal. Bastian rebuffed the allegations insisting the Atlanta-based airline remained “in full compliance with the CARES Act”.

While welcoming the emergency relief package, Bastian claims those funds alone aren’t “nearly enough” to help Delta survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Bastian told the Senators that Delta workers would understand and accept the need to reduce their wages because at Delta “…in times of trouble, we sacrifice together.”

Photo Credit: Delta Air Lines

“Delta is in full compliance with the CARES Act,” Bastian said in a letter to Warren and Sanders on Friday. “The intent of the Payroll Support Program included in the Act is to preserve jobs. The program also requires we commit to no involuntary furlough through September. Even after September, my goal is to jeep furloughs to a minimum and avoid them entirely if possible. To achieve this goal, we are working across al division of the company to spread the reduced work available among as many people as possible, thereby protecting jobs.

“As revenues and demand deteriorated, Delta took decisive action to preserve jobs by reducing our cost base and protecting liquidity. We reduced our flight schedule by over 70 percent; parked more than 600 aircraft, consolidated facilities at airports nationwide; closed many of our Delta Sky Clubs; and reduced non-essential maintenance while maintaining essential air service and always adhering to the highest level of flight safety”.

Bastian claims the airline made the decision to cut the hours of merit ground employees by 25 percent before receiving the payroll support. “Not only was there little work to be done, but it was also dangerous to keep Delta employees unnecessarily in large public space during a raging pandemic,” the letter continued.

“The lack of travel resulting from government mandates and health advisories forced a reduction in hours for our pilots and flight attendants as well.” As a result, many workers will take home less pay but Bastian assured the Senators that “Delta employees continue to be paid at the same rate of pay”.

Ed Bastian, chief executive of Delta Air Lines

“At Delta, one of our most important values is teamwork. We celebrate when we win together; and in times of trouble, we sacrifice together. In true Delta fashion, over 40,000 employees have volunteered for unpaid leaves of absence. The actions of these employees highlight the culture of our company,” Bastian argued. “We are united and understand the responsibility that each of us have to protect the future of the company we love.”

But Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) and dubbed America’s most powerful flight attendant, isn’t convinced. She claims Delta is “hoarding billions in taxpayer dollars” that should be going to Delta employees. Although Nelson doesn’t represent Delta’s flight attendants as they aren’t unionized, she has called on the airline to “reverse course immediately”.

Bastian’s letter makes it clear that isn’t going to happen.

jetBlue has also implemented a similar scheme as Delta, while United decided to change tack on the same type of policy following a public outcry and the threat of legal action from unions.