As cases soar, the CDC issued a warning urging Americans not to travel this Thanksgiving to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
Southwest Airlines’ streak of no layoffs, a longtime bragging point for company executives, may come to an end in early 2021.
The nation’s largest airline on Thursday sent warnings to nearly 7,000 workers about potential layoffs. Companies are required to send notices about looming large job cuts by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). Other airlines, most notably American and United, have already issued notices and laid off tens of thousands of workers.
Southwest has been in negotiations about pay cuts and other cost savings with its unions since October to offset what it has said are more than $1 billion in “overstaffing costs” due to the depressed travel demand from the pandemic.
“Our absolute goal is to preserve every job at Southwest Airlines; however, due to a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations, we had to proceed with issuing notifications to additional employees who are valued members of the Southwest family,” Russell McCrady, vice president of labor relations said in a statement. “We are willing to continue negotiations quickly to preserve jobs if we can achieve the support that allows Southwest to combat the ongoing economic challenges created by the decline in demand for air travel.”
Southwest Airlines has proposed laying off nearly 7,000 workers. (Photo: Southwest Airlines)
The airline sent notices to 6,828 of its approximately 58,000 employees, or more than 10 percent.
The breakdown of potential layoffs by major work groups:
- 2,551 airport ramp, provisioning, operations and cargo agents
- 1,500 flight attendants
- 1,221 pilots
- 1,176 customer service agents
The airline said the layoffs will take place on March 15 or April 1 depending on the employee group unless negotiations with unions are successful or the government offers another round of federal aid to airlines. The airline calls them furloughs instead of layoffs because union employees have recall rights if and when when business improves but the affected workers are indeed out of work until then.
Jon Weaks, the head of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, blasted what he sees as the company’s lack of faith in negotiations in a somber video sent to the airline’s pilots Thursday.
He said the union has proposed several options for reaching the company’s cost-saving goals but that each has been rejected by labor relations officials.
“Today marks a sad milestone in the history of Southwest Airlines,” he said.
If Southwest CEO Gary Kelly proceeds with the layoff plans, Weaks said, “He will once and for all put a dollar value on 49 years of Southwest Airlines and its commitment to our pilots who are part of its family: $220 million.”
That’s the amount the airline would save if pilots agree to the 10 percent pay cut the airline is seeking from employees.
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