Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience…
Flight attendants at United Airlines have urged chief executive Scott Kirby to find another way to avoid re-furloughing thousands of employees at the end of March when a second federal payroll support program is set to expire.
In a recent memo, Kirby repeatedly said United’s share of a $15 billion federal bailout would only allow the airline to offer “temporary” employment for surplus staffers following the successful passing of a second Coronavirus stimulus bill.
In contrast, Southwest Airlines has taken a far more optimistic position on the bailout, saying the funds would keep the threat of furloughs at bay until the end of 2021 at the very earliest. If travel demand picks up through next year, chief executive Gary Kelly might be able to forget ever demanding concessions from employees.
The payroll support program is designed to keep aviation workers in paid employment and with access to healthcare benefits retrospectively from the beginning of December through to the end of March 2021. Kirby has signalled that he will abide by the very letter of the law but will not seek to stretch the funds out or pursue other ways to reduce furloughs.
United placed around 13,000 workers on involuntary furlough at the end of September when the first, much larger, round of payroll support ran out. The number of employees furloughed by the Chicago-based airline was second only to American Airlines which furloughed 19,000 workers.
“We don’t expect customer demand to change much between now and the end of the first quarter of 2021,” Kirby warned in the December 21st memo. “United has been realistic about our outlook throughout the crisis, and we’ve tried to give you an honest assessment every step of the way,” the memo continued.
“The truth is, we just don’t see anything in the data that shows a huge difference in bookings over the next few months. That is why we expect the recall will be temporary.”
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) has reacted with dismay Kirby’s stance saying it was “amazed” by the stance he and his leadership had taken.
“Let’s start right off the bat by saying, we do not share management’s view that an involuntary furlough is necessarily inevitable,” a memo from the union told United’s flight attendants on Tuesday.
“Scott has a reputation as a “numbers guy” and he’s been very aggressive in his cuts and that “direction from the top” has filtered down through all departments at United,” the memo warned.
In the absence of additional payroll support that may, or may not be, proposed by the incoming Biden administration, United will likely furlough all 13,000 workers at the end of March. Despite the hope of multiple vaccines now being approved and rolled out around the world, it remains unclear when travel demand might rebound and to what extent.
But United’s flight attendant says the prospect of furlough shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion. “There are many more ways to achieve our mutual goals through cooperative efforts and we can avoid any relentless pursuit down a path of involuntary furlough,” the union pleaded.
Whether Kirby will hear those pleas or be able to act upon them, however, is far from clear.
Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience at a major Middle East and European airline. Mateusz is passionate about the aviation industry and helping aspiring flight attendants achieve their dreams. Cabin crew recruitment can be tough, ultra-competitive and just a little bit confusing - Mateusz has been there and done that. He's got the low down on what really works.