Contracted airline employees, pilots celebrate inclusion in stimulus

Stephon Johnson | 4/2/2020, midnight
Contracted airport workers and unionized airport pilots can rest easy.
Travel/Airplane Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

Contracted airport workers and unionized airport pilots can rest easy.

Congress included both groups in the $58 billion bailout package for airline companies. Half of the bailout comes in the form of grants to cover 750,000 airline staff wages.

Noting that they’re also on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic keeping airports running and cleaning terminals, 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg reminded people of his constituents’ importance.

“Today 125,000 contracted airport workers finally got some good news amidst weeks of stress, fear and uncertainty…,” said Bragg. “There are many details left to analyze on the airline bailout and many safeguards will be needed to ensure that airline contractors use this funding to help their workers—as it was intended. Airline contractors must do the right thing and use these resources to keep their workforce intact so that our airports can resume quickly when this crisis is over.”

Bragg also asked that the airline companies halt layoffs for thousands of contracted airport workers (including baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair attendants, line queue workers and security officers).

“It would be inhumane for executives to throw contracted workers overboard just as a lifeboat appears in the distance,” said Bragg.

For unionized airport personnel, the “economic relief” package includes provisions to limit furloughs, protect union contracts, and ensure federal assistance is used to pay airline employees’ salaries and benefits and not for corporate buybacks of executive bonuses.

Capt. Joe DePete, president of the Air Lines Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), said it was the best case scenario for his constituents.

“From the outset, ALPA maintained that any economic relief bill must put workers first to keep airplanes flying and help move our economy,” stated DePete. “We are especially glad that this robust package to immediately stabilize the industry includes grants for worker payroll as well as protections for the integrity of collective bargaining agreements.”

ALPA members, thousands and thousands of pilots, sent Congress more than 130,000 letters to their elected officials, made a social media push and implored that lawmakers protect their jobs.

“Now and always, airline pilots are adhering to the high standards of professionalism that we demand of ourselves—and that our passengers and shippers expect,” continued DePete. “Airline pilots are considered ‘essential’ to the U.S. economy, especially in challenging times.”

The bailout for American airline companies has resulted in airline companies in other countries trying to seek similar compensation.

EasyJet and IAG, which own British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic have asked the U.K. Treasury for a bailout, but a letter from finance minister Rishi Sunak said they’ll only be bailed out as a last result, but for now they should look within.

“We would expect all companies to be pursuing all possible actions to preserve cash and maximise liquidity, including engaging with shareholders, lenders and the markets, and utilising all available assets and facilities,” wrote Sunak.

While Australia has announced that it would provide some kind of relief to airline companies in their country, it didn’t stop Virgin Australia from permanently cutting 1,000 jobs while Flight Centre Travel Group said it would cut 6,000 travel agent jobs around the world.

Stories like these make Bragg more appreciative of what they’ve accomplished in the U.S.

“The unemployment insurance expansion will help millions of workers at a time when they need it most,” said Bragg. “The layoff protection for contracted airport workers could be the difference between families going hungry and facing homelessness or holding on safely to survive along with the industry they serve.”