United Airlines has extended the deadline for employees to sign up to a voluntary separation program again – but this extension will be the last and the airline’s workers are being warned this will likely also be the last opportunity to leave with benefits or face the possible threat of involuntary furlough. Employees have until July 15 to make their decision before the offer is snatched away for good.
The voluntary separation program, known as VSP2, has been around since late May and United says “thousands” have already signed up to leave the airline voluntarily with the offer of enhanced travel benefits, elite frequent flier status and subsidized healthcare benefits.
United hasn’t shied away from warning employees, including flight attendants, gate agents and administrative staff that mass lay-offs will likely be needed if the airline is to survive the Corona crisis. For now, workers are protected from involuntary furlough until the end of September because of a condition attached to United accepting a $5 billion CARES Act bailout.
But come October 1, mass lay-offs are expected across the U.S. airline industry. American Airlines has already told its flight attendants that they will have an anticipated overage of between 7,000 and 8,000. In total, the airline predicts it will have 20,000 more employees that what it needs by the fall.
“Our second Voluntary Separation Program (VSP2) has proven to be the right option for many of you,” an internal memo informed United staffers on Thursday. “Thousands of employees have signed up, which plays a big role in reducing the number of involuntary actions we will have to take in the future. That’s why we still need every one of our remaining front-line employees to seriously consider this option, so we’re extending the deadline for participation.”
For employees who accept the offer, they’ll end work on July 29 but will be considered employed and on leave until December. During that time they’ll receive 33 per cent of pay and healthcare benefits will be retained during this time as well.
As an additional sweetener, United is also offering:
- 250,000 MileagePlus miles
- Top frequent flyer status
- Active employee benefits for five years
- Priority access to jobs once the Corona crisis subsides
“We expect that this will be the last VSP extension and there will be no further voluntary offerings,” the memo warns. “We are likely to issue notices, pursuant to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, to impacted employees this month that signal potential involuntary furloughs that are effective October 1,” the memo continued.
A WARN notice is a legal notice that warns of possible mass layoffs and must be given with at least 60 days notice before furloughs are carried out. Airlines may also attempt to reduce involuntary furloughs by offering more voluntary leaves of absence or giving staffers the option to work part-time hours.
A coalition of unions, including the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents United’s cabin crew, has called for an extension to the CARES Act to stave off the possibility of thousands of airline job being lost come October 1. The funding is expected to be debated by lawmakers later this month but so far, airlines have shown only muted interest in a second bailout.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.